Friends, Love

Wedded Blissing

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.

Change, Happy Days, Love

Happy 100 Days: 4

It takes me six days to work my way up to looking at the gift. On the DVD, he has hand-written “Merry Christmas,” and “Love.” I know it is photos. I can’t bring myself to take it to Texas, so it is waiting for me under the tree when I return.
“Have you watched it yet?” He asks.
We are not supposed to be talking. After dozens of half-hearted attempts, we said a final goodbye before Christmas. Still, it is never easy to walk away when there no one has inflicted harm. The reasons are real yet vague. On even days, we understand it cannot work. On odd days, we are each the solace and the best friend.
“So, have you?”
“No, I have not found time.” Which is not true. I have willfully forgotten the presence of the gift under the tree. Even when I sit right there in the living room, I cannot see it.
Against our better judgment, he comes to the house. He carries a sack of take-out kabobs and an uncertain smile. He sets the table and I fill the water glasses. We eat buttery rice and talk all the way around topics we have agreed to ban from this intercut. Instead, we make a show of getting re-acquainted. It feels like a first date (or the first after a long drought).
We make a show of discussing everything non-us. We chat. It is very civilized. This is how we break the chokehold of unanswerable questions. This is how learn the true scope of the narrative.
This is how we write it.
After we finish dinner, he helps me make the hummus and marble cake for tomorrow’s party. He forgoes the electric beater and asks for a whisk. The butter and sugar whip to a froth and he adds the eggs one by one. Vanilla. Sour milk. In the top of a double boiler, chocolate melts. I let him taste from the spatula. We both lick the spoons.
I make two small cupcakes so we can have something sweet for ourselves.
Then, he takes me to the living room and turns the lights low. The Christmas tree is still bright. “Enough stalling. We’re watching this tonight,” he says.
“Okay.” I plop down on the couch. He gets the DVD player up and running. And then, there it is. “This is our past,” the screen tells me. The Grateful Dead kicks in and the familiar pitch of Jerry’s voice sings the opening strains of “Scarlet Begonias.”
As I was walking ’round Grosvenor square. . .
Then the photos roll. I recognize the first few and then I see some I do not remember him taking. Our first walks. That first morning he dropped me at work. The first time I met his family when we went to sing karaoke on his cousin’s birthday at a bar west of town. Him there, goofing and laughing. Me there, flirting and singing.
I knew right away she was not like other girls.
Me, making an acorn mosaic on a rock in Shenandoah. Us, raising our glasses with our friends at a winery. Bug as Harry Potter at Halloween when he was still so little, his hair dyed brown and those big glasses sliding down his nose. Drinks at the bar of that awful, crowded Thai restaurant where the meal took two hours to arrive and we were so hungry, we ate the soggy maraschino cherries out of our mai tais for sustenance. Bug playing legos on the blanket Giovanni hammered into the ground for him at our campground. Family parties, guitars, line dancing. My birthday balloons. His birthday hike. Me balanced on the side of a fountain. Him balanced on the top of a mountain. Us standing in the blustery night, bright-cheeked before the National Christmas Tree.
I had one of those flashes I’d been there before, been there before.
The music changes. The photos spool on.
We are a couple. I understand this now. He is more than some in-between fling. This is not “dating after divorce.” He is real, as he has been telling me for over a year. We are something substantial. Whether we leave it or keep at it, we are far more than just an idea. We are two people with a shared history. The pictures capture so much of it. Some are melancholy. Some of the images precede or coincide with white-hot arguments we both recall. Much of our past, though, is just plain old happy.
As for the rest? I don’t know. The DVD ends with a video he captured one night when we were in his house eating cookies he had just made. We are talking sweet, melty cookie talk to the camera. I am chattering on without realizing he is taking video. Near the end when I realize it is being recorded, I burst out laughing.
The image fades to this: “Our future is unwritten. . .”
We have nearly a year and a half behind us now. We have said goodbye, yet here he is, holding my hand on the living room couch in the glow of the tree.
He says, “I have never fought this hard for a woman before.”
I say, “I hope I’m worth it.”
He chuckles. “Yeah. Me, too.”
He leaves for the night but we do not say goodbye. We are not disposable. Something different than what I intended has happened here.
I have no idea who this Us is. We are just meeting now for the first time.
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.


Love, Outdoors, Poetry

Happy 100 Days: 46

I have only two left
gloves, a worn
hole in the index finger
of one so I turn it backwards
on my right hand and heft
my end of the 6×6
over to the pit where the small hill
of sand by the gate
will reside
after we are done
(probably not today)
The man’s toolbelt drags
down his pants and his pencils
have not been sharpened
in a year. His drill
bit is too short and keeps escaping
from its housing
it is a wonder we manage
to fit holes
three beams deep
with the same rebar we use
to lever the lumber from its
ill-placed seating
(the volunteers did not use a level)
Leaves drift into the pit and we lose
the maul and then the last
pencil. My gloves flop like wings of
bats. Nothing stays. We use the flat
side of a hand saw to draw a line
“measure twice, cut once,” I say
so he pauses and smiles and unclips
the measuring tape
before hitching up his pants
again. When he drills backwards
through wood to meet
the hole from the other side, every time
I hold my breath and every time
I cheer when the bit spins free
finding its aim in the dark center
and the light and the air
spill through
behind the shavings
The eight-foot beam splits
my right index finger
at the tip and I suck my breath
but he is bleeding too in almost the same place
(the posts are hard to lift from the rebar
we keep seating too soon)
so we both shrug and keep hammering
the business end of one maul
with the blunt end of another
The sun sinks. We coil
the orange cord and stand
the shovels and wheelbarrow against the shed
wall, the beams still loose
the sand still piled
by the gate. He gives me
my first and
as it turns out
only hug of the day
and drives off with the circular saw
in his back seat
The gloves need a proper burial
but I toss them in
with my tools again
and my skin chafes red and thirsty
as I lift away the leaves caught
in the trunk of my car to make
room. The sting dulls to a throb
and so I do not feel the cut
mouth of the paper frog
my son made for a man
he loved once when crafting
something by hand was enough
even if the the edges
were ragged and maybe
even especially then.


Happy 100 Days: 99

We only see each other in passing after months and months apart. She lives too far and I have the kid. She keeps reminding me she has never met my son, which is sort of extraordinary considering how much a part of me she feels. We make plans again to get together. We mean it every time.
She knew me before Tee. Back then, we walked together along the river and ate heaps of pancakes at the little grill where she sometimes worked. She always was the finest waltz partner. That has not changed. She lifts my arm up and over to twirl my cloddish feet in the most elegant of arcs.
After, in a dark corner away from the whirling dancers, we huddle together and gossip. I have known her for a decade at least. Longer? Yes, so we discover. A dozen years. Amazing.
We laugh like schoolgirls. Like sisters. I know the funny way she rolls her eyes, and feel what lives in layers there: the tenderness down under the scar down under the sarcasm down under the sugary flutter of the lashes. She knows my history so I don’t have to masticate all over again that mouthful of ineffective words just to get her up to speed. We get right to the laughing.
It is hard to believe either of us is so much older than we were then. We still circle back around to the same silly patterns. We are still always who we have always been. For once, this is a reason for hilarity rather than angst. Just leaning close to her welcome skin for 10 minutes, that fleeting return to the familiar, puts the fizz back in my tired blood. We hug good night with more promises of visits. She returns to the dance floor and I head to the parking lot. I cruise out onto the Beltway feeling the strangest of sensations. What is that, I wonder? Serenity? Happiness? Something new, but also like coming home.



A man at the gym asked me what my plans were for the weekend.
“Camping,” I said. “And swimming in fresh water.” What bliss! “It’s been my one goal for the summer. Lakes. Swim in lakes.”
“Not a fan of the beach, huh?”
This stopped me. I shrugged. Who doesn’t like the beach?
“No, it’s not that.” I put my hand on my heart and leaned in. “It’s just about going towards what I love.”
“Oh.” The stranger at the gym began to focus with great intensity on tying his shoes.
Does it sound odd? “Move towards what you love.” Maybe it is awkward to say such a thing during a casual exchange, but I don’t know how else to give it voice. A person don’t need to dislike wineries or shopping or baking to find herself doing less of these things. It’s only because she learns that her joy is in rock climbing, playing mandolin, or growing basil on her patio. Letting go of half-pleasures is a necessary cost of orienting towards bliss.
For years, I have believed a rich life is a varied life. “Balance,” say The Many, “is the key to wellness.”
What if balance is trickier than we think? Maybe we are simply excusing our piecemeal approaches to entertaining our fragmented selves. What if we know our purpose, our rightness, is in this small assortment of things here, and the more we do them fully, and the more we do them with our whole attention, the richer the flavor of our lives?
What if less variety, not more, is the secret spice?
Certainly, engaged citizenship requires baseline familiarity with a broad array of topics that affect our shared residency on this planet. Scan the headlines, visit a museum, serve someone in need, and learn a craft. Also, though, have the courage to choose. This one gift is my calling. Or maybe,This slim collection of activities are the homes of my true Yes.
To follow that call can be so very scary. What if I am wrong? What if I am no good? What if I fail to attend to all these other toys and creatures clamoring for my attention and I miss something big?
I can only say this: To know your love is a precious thing. It is the rarest treasure, and you have to dive, over and over, into those suffocating sea-caves without anybody pointing the way. Sometimes you can only see a glint of it and the closer you get, the darker it seems. You have to believe yes, it is gold, when all around people are hinting that you are a fool and all your plunder is rust.
Your hands begin to wander back to the mundane entertainments. Your mind whispers that it would rather be at ease with simple tasks than faced with the raw tenderness of its own unfurling.
By all means, avoid the call. It’s okay. Your avoidance will not last long.
Once you know, once you have spoken that truth aloud backward and down into your own belly, there is no turning back.
Then the TV is no longer a foe, the bottle has no allure, the 270 “friends” and their carbonated noise up on the surface of the earth are rendered silent. You no longer need to retreat from the things you believed were holding you back, and you do not need to name what you do not like. Instead, you emerge towards your own self becoming.
You lower your thirsty body into the cool waters. You know you have arrived.
Move towards what you love. What you leave behind cannot break your heart, because your heart is only just now being born.


Love: Letters

Dear One,
I am up too late again, writing when I should be sleeping. It is nice to think of you there, the day breaking when you find this letter waiting. I wish I could be where you are, awake together when we both know better. But this is the best I can do.
I cried again tonight. It has been so many nights of crying, and always when I come home from the good man’s house. It makes no sense, because he is only welcoming, only just right for me. Still, the noise. It chatters like hyenas, and that insane screeching! You know what I am talking about because you have described the same to me. It used to only come in the deep well between twilight and dawn. Now, it creeps in any old time. Especially when I try not to be alone, which is, I am increasingly coming to see, the only way I really want to be.
At least until I catch my breath. At least until you are back here with me.
Arriving home after the careful conversations and the sweet promises with the good man, I felt like dragging a blade across my teeth. Anything, to feel some sensation louder and more primal than the accusing questions and ancient poison hissing at my throat (and always outside the range of his bewildered ears).
It is all so much like adolescence, it makes my stomach tremble. Mirth? Terror? A little of both, with a rare dash of resolve thrown in. Tonight, I found myself sitting on the floor of my bedroom, folded in front of the mirrored closet doors. I do not even know how I got there. It was already an hour past bedtime, and I had just been trying to choose an outfit for work. Snow in the forecast. Then, there I was, collapsed against the foot of the bed. Not even tears at first. Just the paralysis, and the chilling realization: That bedraggled woman with the sallow skin and the petrified eyes? She is me.
In that same reflection, a girl flashed back from the dim glass of the elementary school bathroom. I was ten years old. It was perhaps one of my earliest moments of true self-awareness. Darkening blonde hair in purple barrettes. The girl, big-eyed and frightened at the first glimpse of her changing self. Here slipping into there, I was two baffled Shannons at once, with the same vertiginous sense of being both trapped and falling, inside a skin that surely is not mine but holds me together, holds me in, without giving me a say in the matter.
I thought the divorce was hard. That’s a laugh. Having been divorced? That’s the real kicker. There is no hiding anymore from the forces I trained in my own foolish youth and readied for battle, unaware of what I was unleashing on my family. Over the past two years, the ol’ psyche has taken a bloody battering from each wave of invading hordes — the shock, the anger, the blame, the suffocating self-protection, the sorrow. Now, here, I finally stand back up again in the uneasy quiet. Is it only a reprieve? You bet your life. Listen: another thunder of footsteps just over the horizon. What’s this? The honest accounting? Oh, yes. The demons, demanding their due.
What have you done?
It is a wonder that people going through this do not all lose their jobs for gross incompetence, sail their cars over bridges, and sell their possessions to join burlap-wearing macrobiotic cults. How does a person stay steady with so many questions pressing in and clawing for attention? What does a single mom do when the old fears kick up the amp and the new fears start moshing? How does she manage the noise when the very real needs of children, home, and finances are running just as loud and hard?
And then, to add a boyfriend? You’ve got to be kidding me. I am not built to take one decibel more. The speakers will blow. The roof will fall down on all our heads.
Go ahead and laugh. I know what you are thinking. You were always the one, always the only. I had my first kiss at eleven years old. You were wily. You had arrived months before. I did not know then that you would come back again. I had no way of understanding that you always would.  That nothing and no one would compare. That in the space of a single blue line, you planted your flag and made me yours.
So, my one love, I am here while you are there. Within reach, you keep reminding me, but it does not seem possible. You seem galaxies away tonight. I am not sure what I am asking. Rescue me? Come for me? It is a fool’s plea. You are always only here when I walk my own feet over the miles between us and carry you back to where you belong. It is too much to imagine doing anything so bold tonight, so please indulge this broken wish. Please, open the trap door in the ceiling above this quaking bed. Slide your hands under me and lift me from this place. Wrap me in your beautiful story. Whisper me somewhere quiet, where I have no choice, and I need to know nothing at all.
All I ask is that you save me.
I will be yours. I am yours. Always.