Two years. Two whole entire years. I have had those words circling my head for a month or so, sometimes as an insult, other times just a fact. Depending on your mood or other cosmic factors, two years can seem like the blink of an eye. It can also be lifelong. I tend to think, most of the time, that it is both.
It is 6:05 AM and I am digging around in a box trying to find some bourbon. Not to drink, no. I’m making a pâté today, from the livers of birds, which I collect in my freezer, each one layered atop the other, fingerprints of each life preserved. I'll do this today, in spite of all the fantastic forces of life moving forward. My world is in boxes. I ought not be emulsifying anything. But I have a class to teach, and so it goes.
Moving. It’s what you do. Moving keeps you from falling, from rotting, from fearing yourself motionless, from growing special feathers just for regret. It’s what I’m doing, buoyed on a wide open wind. A big leap, I called it. A big try-again. For sharing. For family. For help and hope and love. So, in preparation, I have been softly tearing myself from this place, like a root carefully harvested, or tender skin you want to save from the grip of a thorn. I have loved this house. I have loved it all mine. I have forged it ours, as if in silent worship, through the thick sea of nights and the bright smell of mornings. I have sat on buckets and mused at the mountains. I have loved myself in the calming rooms, awakened with tired hands on warm mugs. I've hated myself in this house, forgiven myself in this house, wished to disappear totally, sitting silent and small in this house. And my boys. Lord, they have grown in this house. We have slept, warm and close, with no one but each other, in the safety of this crazy house. This crooked, creaky, leaky, lovely, colorful, beautiful sanctuary where we have healed in ways I will never fully believe. We have saved ourselves here. This house has been our cocoon, and for two years now we have lived within it, carefully becoming old and new again.
I wrote a book in this house. I reshaped my career. I became a better mother in this house, parsing and scolding myself, teaching and helping myself. I sat, wrapped in quilts, within the walls of this house, and thought about my whole life. I looked at my whole life and I looked at the whole world, and I strung it all together into a gentle handbook, which I wear now, an invisible tattoo that covers all my skin. I cooked incredible food in this house, from the extravagant and creative to the humble stretching of freezer fodder and flour and water. I laughed in this house, when the sound of my own laughing came to me as if on a breeze-- startling and faraway and not yet owned. I gathered people in this house, so many times, sometimes until we ran out of dishes and chairs for everyone who gathered. I have cried, mighty, skin-searing, private and cleansing tears in this house. I have watched time pass in this house. Two years. That's all.
I moved in a madwoman. Eyes open wider than your average Jane, grasping tighter to everything than what is altogether necessary, and saying not a single thing that would threaten breathing. I have an artistic rendition of that fierce woman in my head, which I carry around out of a determined, solid homage to her. She is one of the better, broken forms of me. She’s on the back of my silver damn dollar. She’s the one I lost and found. I’ve sewn her into the seams of my shadow, and some days she is the one who carries us both. She almost never threatens me, except to say “Don’t you forget me again. Ever.” I won't. I won't. I promise. I won't.
I wrote about impermanence, then. About what makes home. There were all sorts of bird happenings, and I still have those eggs. Heaven, I was so afraid. But this winter, just like the last, vultures forty or fifty in number, came again and staunchly set about their work, odd and graceful as it gets for cleaning up the dead.
Going through the shed yesterday, cataloging and collecting all the remnants of my flower farm (ay, remember that?) I recalled a letter I wrote to my lover last March, which went like this:
There is a titmouse poking her head in and out of the gutter, right at the corner of the house. I think it’s a good spot. She is undoubtedly building, flitting back and forth across the yard, gathering small things, even a piece of Cash’s birthday piñata, built over the course of a week and then busted by a band of gleeful children on the grass below her nest. I’ve been watching this bird for about twenty minutes, pretending to listen to the radio, and intending to write about the smell of old flowers, which I happened to recall when I was composting the spent daffodils my sons picked for me last week. The titmouse is fat. I can see the outlines of the muscles in her breast, a crease where her breastbone cuts through them, but is concealed by bulging muscle. I’ve de-boned so many chickens lately that I can’t help imagining her tiny shoulder joints, the cartilage in her knees, and all the other things she is composed of. This is not meant to be morbid. She is not flat and open on my butcher block, and I like it that way. She is happy, nipping at water in the gutter. I like her tipping her head back to let drops of it slide down her silver, fattened throat.
I used to smell flowers constantly. Not just the perfume and the pollen (there was plenty of that, of course), but the smell of tired xylem and rotting stems. Today when I dumped the daffodils, the smell filled the air around me. It wasn’t scummy. It was a close memory, and I thanked the rotten petals falling. I walked through my house then, collecting toys and strewn clothing, and gathering old images of myself to my chest. Images of a distracted girl, trolling through rows of zinnias so tall that no one could see her in the field, except for her one arm, extended above the rows holding the harvest in a carefully color-coded, bright, and burgeoning bunch. Images of her tired, putting roses in jars at midnight with ammi and geranium, and trimming burlap, and wishing for mercy. But I remember she was happy. Or I remember that she thought she was. And with this, I wondered: What were all the trappings of that happiness? Where was it strongest? Where was it fat and fortified? Where was it weak and thirsty? Of course, that girl couldn’t see all the bones of her happiness, then. She just lived inside of it, adding on to it when scraps were abundant. Other times certainly wearing away at it, sometimes noticing, but most times not.
Standing here and looking back, that life is gutted, and a new one is taking shape. I don’t regret anything. I can finally say that now, with certainty. I did, absolutely, the best that I could do. And even if I could flit toward that girl in a barn, and give her bare and sinewy threads of what vast volumes that I know now, I’m not sure it would matter. Which causes me to remember her again, on a wintry day when she knew that her lifeway was ending, walking through snow in downtown Asheville, and realizing that life is comprised of many, diverse happinesses. That you build them, all by yourself. That ultimately, you can ask no one to help you. Not with that. It felt like a revelation to her. It felt flatly satisfying, and roundly terrifying. And I remember what followed: a long and breathless wondering of what was to come. I remember her walking back and forth and back and forth, babbling questions like desperate prayers. Now, there are such a multitude of reasons why that won’t happen again. So many that those memories and questions seem almost trite, even though they are sacred, even though they are answerless, but meaningful, and huge, but oddly canceled.
I was trying to explain it to you, over the phone the other night, without the titmouse. Without the flowers. I couldn’t do it. I’m not sure I can do it now. It’s not that I’m not talking about risk, or fear. I’m just talking about perspective. It’s not that I don’t believe another happiness is possible. It’s just that I know it will be built of different things. That you get better at seeing, and believing all the resources. And that everything expands and collapses, anyway.
This is the great, unflinching solace I smell in dying flowers. I am happy, watching the titmouse, out in the sun on the perch she picked this time around. I am happy, all the more, that she makes use of my ephemeral party trash, as much as the dependable twigs. Happy that she is fat, even though this nest will fall away, and every day she learns and learns. Happy for the seasons, for the way they make sense, and the way we crave them like water. We crave how they go on, one after another, folding and unfolding, repeat and repair. Actually, we wish the organizing and declining of our environment, or at least what we can see, would keep up with all the calamities of our hearts, whose ecosystem expands and collapses in much more fragile rhythms. Oh, that we could see it better, and say it out loud to each other. It would help. For we believe in the beauty of chaos, and we sing to the roar of survival, except when we find them forging in our own cells. I can look around and see this, now. And I am happy here, wherever this is, where everything genuine is bright and blinding, significant and minute, and a cataclysm all the same.
Oh, right on. Right on. Right on. Right on. Oh, but we live entire lifetimes in the blink of an eye, each one taking a slow and silent forever. I’ll make one last pâté in this one. Then I’ll take my livers and my battles and and my joy and my shit, and I’ll do it all again. Better. I better. I found an old, embarrassing book of college-day poetry in my drawer as I packed, next to my oldest son's baby teeth, which I saved in the folds of napkins. I opened the book, sheepishly, to find where I had written "...and us, having millions of eyelids, and we are always waking up."
I think about silver dollar woman, her gaze distant, her muscles taut and ready. God, but she was built like a wing. How windswept she was, how covered and dusty; made for a specific, sacred thing. How she fought and collapsed, fought and collapsed, fought and collapsed, and in that rightness of flying she built a whole world. A curled space, way up high, where one could rest, and grow stronger at night, and remember the heartbeat and the breathing. It is not a surprise that that world has had a tight hold of us. It is not a surprise to find ourselves often returning to the positions that grief taught us, even if the stuff of our lives has been already mended there.
And so. I may be skittish, surveying the horizon. Hell, I may always be that way now. But I will no longer nest here. I decided, as if unthinking, despite all the questions. Reflexively, I decided. We're moving. Lift off. It is both terrifying and right, to see another lifetime coming. All you can do is aim high.