Sometimes you sit in a room with someone who is doing something hard. You sit with them and let them do the hard thing. You sit with them not doing the hard thing for them. You sit there not answering the questions facing them unless the questions are some version of, “Can I do this?” The only answer you say out loud is, “You’ve done hard things before. Of course you can do this.” You offer them sips of water. You keep the glass filled.
In the story we tell of our family, the Fall 2019 chapter will be entitled “Haunted by Tragedy.” Three people close to us died unexpectedly in the span of four weeks. The past few months have been consumed with sorting belongings, planning memorials, and dealing with the aftermath of loss.
This weekend, we held a joyous and moving celebration for my friend Eric Dixon at one of the pubs where he played many winning games of trivia. This marks the last of the tangible tasks left to the living. The heart carries on with the intangibles. Here is what I shared at Eric’s service.
It is the music that finally does it. Sylvan Esso, “Funeral Singers.” It’s not the song’s particular connection that splits me open. It’s the fact of the music. That I can hear so much better, that I have learned to taste, appreciate and eventually love music that would have never existed for me if not for Eric. I’m guessing this is true for many of us here. How many of us can say — show of hands — that it’s because of Eric that we know King Crimson? I bet we all have lists of things we call our own now because Eric’s enthusiasm infected us. For me? It’s Galactic. Janelle Monáe. The author Katherine Dunn. The mathematician Martin Gardner… and that’s just the start of my list.
He points to Sting and Bob Marley,
his eyes hopscotching sideways
over walls of worn bright album covers
all the way to the ceiling, lighting
up for the first time
as salsa music and hissing milk
steam the room and warp
corners that squeeze
us into the proximity
and nexts. Shots
in hot mugs clank against laughing teeth.
He slides forward in his seat
back again. When India Arie
escorted Stevie Wonder to the stage
he tells me, she kissed him on the cheek. Continue reading “Everything is Music”
The vet’s best guess is that our rescue dog was born sometime in the fall of 2013. Over scrambled eggs and waffles this morning Bug says, “Let’s make her birthday October 12 .”
October 12, as it happens, is a school holiday in the states. Indigenous People’s Day is what the more enlightened of my fellow American’s have begun calling it. I’ve taken off work so Bug and I can hang together, but the neighborhood kids have been asking for him all weekend. I know I’ll be sharing him and that’s just fine — it will provide some needed post-window-replacement cleanup time. Every piece of furniture in every room of the condo is still sitting three feet from where it belongs.
Now it looks like my tidying plans will have to make room for Noodle. “What do we do for a dog birthday party?” I ask. Continue reading “This Happening”
My doppleganger lives at the opposite end of the hall. She is also a single working mom with a little boy, a squealing pup, and a sort-of-manageable custody arrangement. We both teach. We both have moms in the area who help us out but we both still struggle with childcare and doggy care. We both are juggling about 15 things too many.
We even share a first name. Continue reading “88. Things I Can Offer: A Playdate”
I sit cross-legged on the path and fold Noodle into my lap. A little boy who was stroking her with such a soft touch continues. Two others — younger, toddlers — step closer. One with a mop of curls squats in front of her and stares with the focus of a hypnotist. Unwavering, he peers along the length of her snout and into her steady eyes. She is so still. He ventures a touch, two fingers on the side of her head. She barely blinks. He steps closer and touches her flank. “Ga-ggie,” he says.
“Yes,” his dad smiles. “She’s a nice doggie.”
This is enough for the small one. He steps back and considers Noodle from a safe distance. His brother keeps that rhythm along her back, as regular as a metronome, as soothing as surf. Noodle’s fur drifts and settles, blanketing my black work trousers. She shifts ever so slightly and surrenders her weight to my belly. I feel her exhale. The third boy — another toddler — stands at his daddy’s shin. He grins and squeals then shoves a finger up his nose.
Behind me, Bug snaps off his rollerblades and tosses his helmet in the grass. I hear a basketball. Voices.
It is nearing dusk. Neighborhood moms call to summon their stray men home for dinner. I dump Noodle back onto the trail. She gives passive resistance a shot but her dead weight is more pliable than she thinks. Soon she falls into step beside me.
Bug is trotting around the blacktop in his socks, his blonde surfer hair flopping. Another boy passes him a basketball and Bug shoots then passes it back. I circle the park a few times watching while the boy’s dad stands and texts from center court. The duo abandons the game and strolls back and forth across the pavement. Bug trails a long stick. His companion holds the ball tucked beneath his arm. Their heads are bent together in a conspiracy of murmurs. They walk the length of the court at least six times over, six times back.
“Hey you,” I call. Noodle and I cut across the grass. Bug scratches his pooch under her chin and shoves his feet back into his skates. I chat with dad and boy. I’ve never seen them here before, although they live a block over from us. We talk schools and child care and pizza. Tomorrow, they kick off a week-long hiking trip in the Monongahela National Forest.
“I’m going to play on the playground equipment,” Bug says, rolling away. I love that he calls it that. Playground equipment. “Okay,” I shout after him. “But not in your blades.”
“I’ll take them off,” he hollers back. When the dad and I make our way over, I see helmet, wrist guards, socks, and wheels lying in a heap at the bottom of the slide. Bug is up high, straddling the outside of a suspended tunnel. His buddy is swinging from a bar. A third has joined them, a preschooler.
The small one points to Noodle. “Is she curly too?” He asks.
“Yeah,” he poofs his arms around him. “Fluffy. Like that.”
I shrug. “She sure sheds a lot. You know how I know when she’s been sneaking up on the couch?”
Bug grins from his perch. “She can’t fool us!” He cries.
“She’s tricky,” I shake my head in disapproval and glare at Noodle who is straining, straining to play with the kids. “Fur all over the sofa!”
The preschooler stomps a foot. “My bro-zher is the smartest of all!” He declares.
“Are you sure? I think you’re the smartest of all.”
“No my bro-zer is! He teached me math. See?” He holds up two fingers on one hand and two on the other. “One -two-free-four.”
Bug is swaying way up high. “Do you know how to do squares? You know the square root of 100 is 10?”
The one from the basketball court swings then plants his feet. “I can divide.”
Then it’s time to go home. A mom collects her mini math whiz. Hiker dad answers a text from home. “Dinnertime, buddy,” he says. He and his boy wander off in the direction of the townhouses. Bug clambers down and slips mulched socks over filthy feet. Buckles, helmet, wrist guards, off we go. Noodle trots along beside us.
“So that boy goes to your school, huh? Did you know him from school?”
“No,” Bug says. “He’s in first grade.”
“You just met him today?”
I picture them again, whispering as they strode off together like they’d been buddies since kindergarten.
“You know what? That’s a really cool talent,” I say. “You find friends everywhere you go.”
Bug shrugs but I see he’s sort of smiling.
What a marvel.
To my right, this clickety-rolling kiddo who enters every setting as if the place has been waiting for him to arrive. He strikes up a conversation. He jump-starts a game. He conjures up companions, assuming friendship is a given.
To my left, Noodle the Wonder Dog, a magnet for toddlers ready to face their fears. A touchstone for kids who still believe that contact with a fellow earthling is the high point of any day.
And me in the middle, a mama leading this bold pack out into the world.
This force, small yet mighty.
She was single when I met her. We danced with the drag queens at the gay bar that used to be north of town. We cut pictures of beaches out of magazines to make vision boards. We ate blueberries at the omelet restaurant on a sunny winter morning and carved pumpkins in a neighbor’s back yard the next fall. One New Year’s eve, we stood in a circle and dropped in one word we’d like to invite into our lives. The next, we hooted and played as the ball dropped.
We’ve never done any of these things alone together. She lives in one of the outer rings orbiting around me. I suspect I orbit a little further out from her. She’s just so much more connected, so much more vibrant. She has a bright smile and and slaps her leg before adjusting her glasses when she laughs. We always greet each other with a hug.
We are friends through friends, spurred by proximity and the bountiful event-planning of our more social girlfriends.
Her tight circle, the close-in one, is well-populated. This seems to be the case for many women I know. I tend to float around out on the edges of knots of friends, going on hikes alone and showing up at the contra dance or zumba class after months of absence. This friend is more like my sister, who has always been so good at weaving elaborate social ties. Mine are individual threads. They are strong in their way, but not braided together — Grace and Mina and Loki are all my girls, but Grace and Mina and Loki don’t know each other.
I know I bring on this drifty distance by my choice to savor solitude. As a result, I never have any expectation that the circle I inhabit is close to the center. When I find myself in intimate connection, I recognize it as a rare and fleeting gift.
This girlfriend? We’ve known each other four years now. She’s getting married in May. Her fella also has a big smile. He’s funny in that after-a-beat way. They have a kick together. They cook, they travel, they have big families in the area, all part of an even bigger community of loved ones. When she talks about her wedding planning, she sparkles even as she rolls her eyes at the wackiness of it all. They are mapping out the celebration of the life they’re building together. In little slivers of conversation between improv games or Mary Kay samples, she shares a detail and a giggle with me.
Even as single and solitary as I am, their fun doesn’t make me ache. They are lovely in their goofiness, and she is clearly having a delightful time in the world she now inhabits with her fella. Truth is, strong friendship ties and a caring intimate relationship are two things I’d like to cultivate in my life. It’s nice to see two folks sharing their hope and good thinking. It reminds me that a person patches a vision together — like anything else — one stitch at a time.
This is acceptance. It is so very grown up.
Then I open the mailbox.
And there’s the invitation.
Equanimity, meet Glee.
Completely, joyously unexpected. With all the other people they keep near, it never even occurred to me that I’d make the cut. Invitation lists are impossible. Family is always first, and the rest of the guests must be limited to the dearest ones. I remember how much it stung when Tee and I looked closely at our rings of friends to determine who we could and couldn’t afford to include.
Somehow, this girlfriend decided I could be a part of their celebration.
I’m not sure what I did right, but I want to do more of it. I feel so totally lucky, loved, and excited. It’s not just an invitation to a wedding. It’s as if she’s slipped into the envelope this tiny golden key and said, “Here. Welcome to the circle. Come in when you’re ready.” It’s up to me to step over the threshold and take my place in the waiting warmth of the friends already right here in my life.
I circle the square on the calendar. May 24. Between now and then, two full pages filled with squares.
Every one, a day waiting for me to draw myself in.
Every one, a chance to be the friend she’s inviting me to be.
You’re getting stronger every day
I write to her
name on a faceless band
of light. We are far
from separate selves, warp and weft of crossing
need, proximity, and cut from the same
tongue. Language mediates thought
(and also must think)
language makes real
whatever we choose together
for truth. We discern
in the very same breath. So thankful
she writes back. It could have been
never this. I could have picked
another answer in the classroom
where she came with the cracked
arc of her story. I could have picked
up the phone tonight and heard her
make me real
which I am not
certain is the case. The haze
at the fringes of iced dark
cuts like blades. It is winter
but only if we choose to call
together these waves and absences,
the frayed seams of our orbit,
and bind them into a word
like season. She and I are one
and the same
in a single blink, single
there’s a term that weaves truth
right into its opposite. She calls me
love. I say she is a gift. We spin
the woolen clouds
of our yearning into letters and tie
the ends into sailor’s knots, good
nights, we make good
on promises we’ve finally begun
to warm and turn
Today, I call up Tee to thank him for our friendship.
“Last night, I learned all over again that if you look for what’s wrong, you find it,” I say. People defeated by chance are out there bashing their exes as we speak. I have done my share of this. Now it makes me cringe.
Tee and I have something more precious than I ever knew. Some of it is the luck of the draw, and I breathe a sigh of relief for the hand I hold. Some of it, though, is a choice we make every day.
Here’s to the happy marriage!
Your magic combination of hard work and dumb luck does more than give the rest of us hope. It also offers your friends, kids, and friends’ kids a model of healthy partnership. God knows, we need more of those.
The glow you tend through your ways of being together is an inviting place. Thank you for letting us warm our hands there before we set out on the next leg of the journey.