She asks me how to tag the posts. I tell her any words that capture the essence of the content will do. She considers her options. “Everyone must use ‘gratitude,'” she says.
Afternoon light creeps in through the endless windows and churns to warmth the mango walls edged in cream. Her grown son is on the sofa doing his own work. He overhears our circuitous meanderings through the wilds of WordPress, and I catch him grinning. He takes a photo of us. We are too absorbed to look up to cheese for the camera. We manage to create her gravatar and a profile picture, and that bright smile of hers begins to leave its traces across the internet.
She is bubbling at the edges. Who would not be tickled at what we are attempting? She asks me to pause before tripping on to setting up an About page. In her notebook, she jots down “Gravatar,” and “Add Post” and “Dashboard.” She tries to number the steps, but sequence is not the way the interface works. It is cross-hatched and concentric (web-like, I daresay).
She recounts the story of the Young Monk, Old Monk , and we laugh as she peers into the screen trying to recall which button will get her to the page where a person just writes. She clicks her her first post to life. Her second and third, she whips right through. Less than an hour in, and my help is already unnecessary. I hold my breath as she hovers over the “publish” button. She clicks, and we both wiggle and pump our fists in the air.
Alive! The words are waking up, stretching out into the virtual world where anyone anywhere can stumble across them. It is a great contribution, this choice to learn past the boundaries for the sole purpose of marveling aloud.
She types in her tags. She chooses Gratitude.
I choose it, too.
I also choose Friendship. And Learning. And Perfect.
When the flower is sated,
the stunted fifth stamen,
secret and invisible below the bee’s belly,
awaits his departure,
then lifts like a drawbridge
and shuts the door.
Was this what it was like? To slog out to the river and begin beating shirts against a rock, and then to glance one inch to the left? To pause for a split second in the work that the clock forever demands? To let the attention stray? And to notice. . . yes. A glimmer. Was it like that blink? That shaking off of doubt? Down under the rippling surface, light dances off something never there before.
Was that here before?
This, the moment of restrained hope, must have felt just so. Did that first breath caught, that first incredulous pause, rise this way from soles to spine to widening eyes?
It can’t possibly be gold.
It begins as a dusting. Just one flake of light, there on the fingertips reddened by work and chill. A speck, a silvering bit of yellow sun, yes, awakening in the air. Venturing deeper into the swirl to see what else may be there makes the body thrill. Oh, immersion! A closer inspection of the riverbed gives the eyes a whole new angle on that rugged landscape.
One nugget then another. A handful then a pocketful. Never a surge, no — this is just the trickle of what has been floating right on past and within reach for years. Forever. It is a lifting out from the clear waters one small bit at a time of precious stuff. It is a billowing out of the apron to make room for the growing abundance. It is a gathering of riches.
Panning sometimes begins by intention, sometimes by pure chance. And only the rarest occasion yields anything but stone. The one certainty is this: only those who plunge in will ever find it.
Look a little to the left. Attend to the light. Suspend doubt. Dig.
This is the halfway mark. This is also the beginning. Today, something I never could have imagined trickled up and out of that dark river bottom. Until this moment, so much has been the eroding bank, the black minnow, the grit and cold mud. It has been the searing submersion in raw self.
Today, something gold and rare and so very light bobbed past. I saw it. I held its tiny shaving in my palm and felt the nothing weight of what it promised.
A new resource. A kind of ease. A half-ounce of hope. Something. I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but I have no doubt it should be gathered. I see now how much of it swims past my ankles. How much of it clings to my skin.
The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.
Because the Headless Horseman came up in conversation and we followed the winding thread down to the river of memory
Because my kid asks a gazillion questions about everything
Because between us, we pieced together enough of the story to make us hunger for more, and somehow Bug knew that the dastardly figure could not cross the river to give chase to Crane
Because I searched my neural archives for the rest but could only call up fragments
Because my job gives me free access to mountains of books at multiple libraries, and anything that strikes my fancy is in my hands in the blink of an eye
Because Giovanni wandered with me through library stacks and remembered Sleepy Hollow when all I could recall was “Ichabod Crane”
Because my parents filled the house with books when I was little
Because the picture of the smouldering horseman haunts me still
Because Washington Irving crafted one of the most memorable descriptions in American literature
Because of all these strange blessings and more, there is a copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow open next to me and much to be thankful for on this November night.
We had five good hours after too many to count of the other kind. The day started with the grumpies and turned into the yelling and the kicking before the sun was even up. It was all scowls and meltdowns from there.
Bug was not the only one having them, I am ashamed to admit. We tried to save the day every which way, even letting Giovanni whisk us off to Manassas Battlefield so we could clamber over cannons and caissons in the unseasonably warm November light. Even so, the afternoon was all tears and grumbles and the push-pull of some unscratchable itch.
Then the child care fell through. Along with it, the evening plans.
At 7:00pm, generous friends found extra chairs and squeezed in two more place settings to make room for us as the table. Other children wrestled and played with Bug. My son turned sweet just minutes after we arrived. He stayed that way, more or less, until a little past midnight. He didn’t even turn back into a pumpkin. He simply fell asleep in my arms.
Without advance warning, friends shared their pasta and their hugs. They gave us five hours of noise and light, which was, in its way, five hours of peace.
The seller accepts my offer over all the others. Even cash from investors, higher bids from FHA borrowers, and promises of covering closing costs do not beat me out. It is a strong offer with 20% down, but the letter my realtor writes is the golden ticket. She paints a picture of Bug and me, growing up together there in that exact corner of the planet.
The record kicks up to 78 rpm. The lyrics are a high frequency tumult. The homeowner, gun shy because her last two buyers had their financing fall through at the 11th hour, is in a kerfuffle. She has something else waiting, it seems. This has taken her months longer than the overheated market promised. She wants the sale to be settled by the first week of December and to be moved out by the holidays.
Push, push, push. I take a breath and tell my realtor I’m sorry, but everyone will have to wait. I need to sit with this possibility for a day or two and let it work its way through my bloodstream. I also have to finish up my week at the office, pick up my son from school, and get some sleep. The homeowner needs an answer yesterday. I understand she is frantic, but she will have to wait a few more tomorrows. If she wants fast, an investor will fork over $200 grand in cash and then lease the place out to the next sucker who will pay twice the mortgage in rent. I don’t say this, of course. I just remind myself to be kind yet firm.
I am in a kerfuffle my own self. Buy now and take on the cost of the commute? Hold out for that phantom place closer to Tee and my work with half the square footage for a mere $40,000 more, all while risking losing out on these bargain-basement interest rates?
Between idealism and practicality, how does a person hit the sweet spot?
This place is cozy and light. It has big bedrooms, a fireplace, a yard with promise. It is on a bus line with transportation to my metro stop. It is near the Korean Spa that I love. It is walking distance to a supermarket, a library, and a park.
The living room is so narrow, I whine to myself. I want a place closer to the metro. Something with woods nearby. A basement. A guest room.
I slow down and consider what this new life is teaching me. Hell, my six-year-old has this stuff figured out already. Have I not learned anything in the past two years?
Wants: Acres of open land. A toolshed and workshop. A ten-minute walk to the office. A basement dance studio. Needs: A safe neighborhood. A quiet bedroom. A reliable way to get to work. A place for my son to learn, play, and grow.
Back and forth in myself, the longing for what is not (yet) within reach swings and clangs. The wanting makes me curl my lip at this beautiful opportunity to fulfill my family’s needs.
Between spoiled and growing up, how does a person hit the sweet spot?
We have the inspection scheduled for Thursday. She was pushing for Tuesday, but both the inspector and I carved out a few more days. Once we are finished digging around under the carpets and behind the hot water heater, I will have three days to make a decision. Barring any issues in financing, I could be on my way to home ownership by Thanksgiving.
Seven months ago, I was still sure that I was trapped in dire financial straits with no ladder in sight. The era of staying at home with Bug, following Tee’s vague career trajectory from one time zone to the next, and eventually divorcing had reduced my financial and professional foundation to rubble. I clung to an image of myself hefting one broken stone at a time back onto something resembling a wall with no blueprint in hand and all the pieces on the brink of toppling again.
That was not what was happening, of course. Six months ago, I began to realize that the story I was telling myself was doing a better job holding me back than my circumstances were:
If my paycheck is sufficient to support Bug and me in our own place, I might actually have to get off my frightened ass and make the leap. I claim I ache for a home. A Place of Our Own is my official Red Ryder carbon action 200 shot range model air rifle. But maybe I don’t entirely trust myself to manage alone. If I wake up to find that possibility under the tree, will I shoot my eye out? Having enough would, after all, mean the end of this recuperative chapter in the suffocating security of my parents’ nest. Might it be that the truth of my terror is not in being stuck but in becoming unstuck?
And so. The bank agrees to loan me many thousands of dollars, my department pushes through a small raise, the realtor helps me squeeze into the two-day window when my crush of a house is back on the market, and BOOM!
“I wish we could fast forward through the whole year,” Bug says. We are in bed and have just finished three books and our first song.
“Yeah? How would that work?”
“We would go all the way through fall, past winter.” He floats his hand through the air above our faces. “And come out after springtime.”
“We could fast forward to a vacation,” he says. “A summer vacation.”
How many of us long for the same thing? I smile and touch his palm suspended up there. “But then you might miss a lot of the good stuff.”
“Like what good stuff?”
“Like all the cool things you get to learn in school,” I say. “How you are just now starting to learn to read. And seeing your friends in class. And playing at recess.” I turn and slip my arm around his middle. “And all the cuddling you’d miss. Think about that.”
“But we could come back all the way around to the beginning,” he explains.
“And do kindergarten all over again?”
“Mmm hmm,” he murmurs. He is fading. “Some kids do it twice.”
I brush my lips over his cheek and begin the next song.
The wind is in from Africa
Last night, I couldn’t sleep. . .
As I walk through the night with the dog over the same quiet neighborhood streets, I notice my mind has retreated again. I have slipped back to the Colorado mountainside or into our Lake George cottage or alongside the San Andreas fault with Bug in my belly. The nostalgia is an open wound. It bites and aches. I miss those trees so much. The dry summer sage. The creek snaking right outside our door. I miss watching Tee drape the house in white twinkle lights as soon as the nights began to lengthen. He would split the logs himself, stack them in the garage and carry up just enough to last through bedtime. Bug always wanted to play with the matches and help bring the fire to life, and Tee always had the patience to let him. I miss walking back through the moonless pitch on those crisp winter evenings towards that glimmering beacon haloed in woodsmoke.
I had no concept of the perfect loveliness of everything right in my hands.
Then I remind my hands to unclench. I whisper to my mind, beckoning it back to me.
You know it sure is hard to leave you, Carey,
but it’s really not my home.
The wound is not real. It is only a series of thoughts. I call myself in from those faraway wilds, giving myself the gentle nudge to attend to this here and now, this quiet stroll through a neighborhood with my lop-eared pooch who stops every 36 inches to snuffle in the leaves.
The time will come when this is the sweetest memory. It might be ten years or it might be tomorrow, but it will come. I will call up this night, the bones of these bare trees, this sleeping boy breathing in the mist and leftover lullabies, and I will ache for the perfect loveliness of this.
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil
Who keeps me in this tourist town
There is no rush and nothing to be gained from hurtling past the winter and right out the other end of spring. Do-overs are not allowed in this game. Getting to the promised land faster means you have only failed to inhabit your footsteps as you are taking them. As ill-fitting, bothersome, and wrong as this chapter may be, this right here is the story of you being written.
But let’s not talk about fare-the-wells now,
The night is a starry dome
And they’re playing that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the mantle of the moon.
The end of this act is already coming. Whether you recognize it or not, whether you hurtle yourself towards it or fight it every step of the way, you are already on your way to the next unrecognizable incarnation. Someday soon, this will be the hard candy you suck until your teeth hurt. This will be the nugget you cannot spit out. You might as well pause long enough now to place your lips on whatever is here before you. Foul, sweet, and anything in between. It does not matter. It is yours. Take a good, long taste.
I say, oh, you’re a mean old daddy,
but I like you.
Thanks and apologies to Joni Mitchell for “Carey” from the glimmering winter night of an album, Blue.
The boy fell asleep tucked sideways into my arms during the final verse of “Baby Beluga.” I filled the froggy humidifier for the first time this year and clicked on its cloud of cool mist. A low hum, a quiet breath. Snow might fall tonight.
To get a hug is to give a hug, right? In the interest of sowing a few happy seeds in the community garden, I made a late-night, earnest commitment to hug at least one somebody every day. This will be a breeze when I have a night with Bug. Hell, I can gorge on a few dozen hugs when Giovanni comes around. On a normal day, though, this will require a little extra attention. My fellow metro commuters may not take kindly to an uninvited squeeze. Also, I am apparently not the same gauze-draped sylph of my youth, opening my bejeweled arms to every new acquaintance upon introduction. I no longer expose my vital organs to folks until I have given them a good sniff.
A hug a day. Yes. I went to bed satisfied with the quest.
Daybreak chased the promise right out of the ol’ noggin. I woke early and raced off to volunteer at a manual work day at Bug’s school. I dug post holes for the new jungle gym and lugged wheelbarrows of gravel with complete strangers. After we had stashed the shovels back in the shed, one of the other moms said goodbye, pulling me into a spontaneous hug. Oh yeah! I was going to do that! What cozy niceness, that smile unfurling down my spine. In that little meeting of our arms and tummies, a fellow volunteer became a potential friend.
Also, I had kept my promise without even trying!
I managed for two more days to give a few squeezes. Then the commitment wandered off again. Working life has a way of elbowing aside the mammal hunger for closeness. Who hugs, anyway? I mean, in the quotidian clip of commute-office-meeting-supermarket-commute again single parenthood, who does such a thing? Nobody hugs. At least, nobody hugs me, and I don’t seem to remember how to manifest that spontaneous warmth the way my fellow digger did at the work site.
Tonight, I had a chance to give a hug (and get one in return. . . How lovely that would be!) to a friend. I blew it, neglecting to recall the commitment or its desire until I was already aboard the metro and well on my way home.
I may have missed my chance, but I can’t abide breaking my promises. I got to the house, dumped my stuff, and hugged the dog instead. I threw in a deep under-the-collar neck scratch for good measure. I dug in there until her leg started pedaling and I knew the dopamine was surging. She even groaned a little. It was super fluffy sweet.
This was not quite what I was aiming for, but a dog-cuddle will do in a pinch. The goal tomorrow: a grownup hug with a human. I can’t wait to find out who will make me smile!