i come home and here i stand, on this piece of pavement, not even a porch, not even level, it slopes downward, and i stand under the porchlight and my mind is full of too much, it is never empty when i stand here, i am always hurried and feeling late, just beginning to be more comfortable with the knowledge that late is what i want it to be, i no longer need to be home at a certain time, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose and all that, and i am even thinking that as i hurry to get the key in the lock and the groceries in the door. i am thinking i am just not hungry anymore, but i need to eat and oh, the deciding what to eat when you're never hungry, when the only thing that sounds good is a dark chocolate peanut butter cup, of which i keep none in the house because i eat them all up when i buy them, and so supper is a chicken sandwich, and not the real chicken, the fake stuff, the cold-cuts chicken that i don't even want to think too much about; i once knew someone who worked in a processing plant for chickens and lunch meats and well, her stories were not pleasant. i make the sandwich anyway and find that the tomato has frozen, so use a couple of pickles instead and not even a plate, just paper towels, and a styrofoam cup for my coke, and i think this isn't the way you should treat yourself, you should use real dishes, but the ice stays icy in a styrofoam cup and the sink is already full of dirty dishes, and later, for dessert, i even use a plastic bowl and spoon for cereal with strawberries. it should be better, it should be different, i tell myself, you should be nicer to yourself, all the magazines say so, you should have a real meal, you should set the table, light a candle, but this is the real world out here, and it is 8 o'clock when i get home and though i am not tired, i am dragging, feeling the loneliness beginning to fill my chest, and not just loneliness for maggie, but also loneliness for the upcoming weekend, time off from work at last, the ever-wonderful michael gone somewhere else, somewhere i would be unhappy, and i can think of nothing i want to do except get in the jeep and drive and see where i end up and hope there is room at the inn when i get there. but there is lily cat to be fed and that limits time and i use that for my excuse, she is good for 2 or 3 days by herself, but then she will need me, no one else is there. i read a blog or two, i feel so behind, and i check in on facebook, and i return emails and it is 10 o'clock and my hair needs washed and i can tell i will be awake late. there used to be some joy here, i think, but it seems so long ago. my copy of little women is in 3 pieces, i have had it since i was a child, and i just put it aside, i lay it on the floor and walk away.
My uncle used to be the Sheriff in the town where Katie is standing, up there above all these words, and my cousin, his son, was killed in a head-on collision in his early 20s. My family is a big family and my uncle was an ex-Texas Ranger, so the funeral was standing room only, so many people there as a show of respect, so many from every branch of law enforcement you can name except Secret Service, and I wouldn't count them out. I remember at one point standing outside the church with other cousins, one of whom said there was more firepower at this funeral than usual, if you combined all the law enforcement weapons with all the kinfolk packing heat. I remember laughing a lot at that.
All these great old places that are almost gone, this one once a movie theater, now crumbling down, no back wall, the inside full of graffiti, but really great graffiti; I took tons of pictures. Another weekend and Katie & I were out driving again; we laughed about a facebook comment, a woman writing how rare open-minded Texans were, and we sang back to her a very politically incorrect Ray Wylie Hubbard song, not serious, but not really joking either, it growing tiresome and boring to hear the silly oh-so-predictable stereotypes, but, like I said, we just sang the song back and laughed and did that Texas shopping thang, and I almost bought a white petticoat that no way would even fit into the jeep it was yes-that-huge (we Texans may exaggerate a bit) and I found the perfect, perfect table for my in-the-future art studio, 8 feet long, white, 500 bucks and I'm so broke, so no can do, and really nowhere to put it right now. I didn't care, it was that perfect, but it was also that left behind. The map at the taco place caught my eye - the perfect shade of light teal and I should've taken a picture, but it's Texas and we drive, so I'll go back and catch it another time. And I'll take more pictures of the Texan - it's a shame to let it go. Think of all the first kisses that took place there, all those young hearts-a-fluttering, all that energy still hovering about. If I had money I'd restore it to something, if not a theater.
On the way home, Katie and I passed a funeral procession headed in the other direction, and of course, everyone pulled over to the side of the road, even on our wrong side, and waited until it had passed, and I talked about when my father died, and how touching it was to see that show of respect from the drivers on the road. It's a small gesture, but a very visible one, and it meant a lot. We were glad to carry on the tradition, glad to live somewhere that still does such things.
All my dreams of her are of the night, and her house is never quite the same, it is always missing some walls, opening into the yard, into the darkness, and it is always full of color. I don't remember much of the plot, I just remember she was there and able to walk around, and I remember the house, which was turned a good 45 degrees or so from the last dream, and like I said, it was night, and there were flowers open to the moonlight, softening the corners of the house, easing the way from inside to outside, forming rooms of their own.
My love of the night in this neighborhood is a powerful thing. The owls have returned; there were 4 babies around the corner, all gone now, off into the night themselves, the nest empty, but they always bring magic with them, always, always, as if their feathers are dusted with enchantment, they fly and it scatters in the displaced air, falling to earth, falling to our streets, onto our upturned faces. It is the beginning. Soon I will be out and about in the darkness, listening to the cicadas, watching the stars, and it will be warm, sometimes hot, it will be summer in Texas, and my muscles will loosen in the heat, will relax, I will lay back in the hammock and count the satellites as they pass overhead. Nothing new except there will be no Maggie nestled on the grass beneath me, and I like that nothing-newness, that sameness, I like that it is still as she left it, that I can say to her look, there's the dog tree, see the limbs swallow the moon?, and though I can't reach down and touch her, I know she sees it, I know that she knows.
The blue flowers above were waiting at my door the day after Maggie's death, a gift with no signed card, but I knew they were from JY, a condolence card of summer blooms. He didn't know that I buy these every year for the back porch, every year but last year when I couldn't find them, he only knew that I loved blue flowers. They will last all summer and they are the first thing I see when I open the kitchen blinds each morning. I see friendship and love and loss and memories in those blue petals, quite a lot for such fragile blooms, but they smile and nod good morning and when darkness comes, they fall asleep in time with the house. The hydrangeas are blooming, blue all around us, a creamy white under Katie's stairs. The honeysuckle is dancing along the sides of the creek and the crepe myrtles are leafed out, and we are almost there - my favorite time of the year, the hot time. The time of baseball and tornadoes, and boats on the lake at midnight, of homegrown tomatoes and okra and fireworks and white moths fluttering against my glass doors, nothing behind them but the night.
And this year, maybe a travel or two.
Maggie whispers in my ear that she is with me and will be always.
oh, you thought all the maggie stuff was over, i know, but i am unravelling again, and in the course of thinking about the first assignment, i began to wonder how to photograph emptiness, which is not the assignment but that's what happens when you begin to unravel and you have a lot of knots to untie and a lot of loose ends, you just never know which one you're gonna follow right now, and so anyway i was thinking about emptiness. still. i know, i know, i just thought if i could put it in pictures as well as words it would help because it still feels wrong when i come home and it's just me, and the house just isn't the same, but here i am and i don't even feel like the same person anymore, and something must be done, mustn't it? and so i began to look through old images, so many of maggie, so many, but at the same time i was looking for images for other stuff and came upon the above very underexposed picture, just a blob of black & shades of barely gray & my feet on the computer screen, but that reflection in the upper left hand corner stopped me. it looked like a cat's eyes; if you squint your own eyes really really hard and imagine the whole thing darker and ignore the 3rd little reflection, you can kind of see what I saw. and so, i lightened it. a lot. a lot. and there was maggie's tail and she was walking away.
you can't convince me that was coincidence. i know better. i know how the universe works, i know signs and messages are out there all over the place and we are just usually too busy or too suspicious or too something to pay attention. i've learned to listen, i've learned to be naive and childlike when it comes to this kind of magic because that is the only way it will find you. and if this isn't a picture of goodbye, of emptiness, of left-all-alone-ness, well then, i don't know what is. and the funny part is, the weird thing is, that it didn't make me sad. it made me smile. never mind that my feet are standing there all vulnerable and naked and pointed in a totally different direction from maggie's feet. never mind that. it made me smile, her tail up in the air and all ghostlike and gone. it felt okay. it felt right.
It is late, almost 11, I am listening to the dryer, waiting on warm blankets, then a shower to wash away this long day. Hot water. Warm blankets. Clean sheets. Clean body. Pink carnations by the bed, a book almost finished and waiting for me.
Supper tonight was toast and a coke, the coke not finished, a bad habit of mine, and I am wishing I'd not thrown out the fortune cookies that came with lunch, although they aren't really fortune cookies, they are just cookies with quotes in them. I want cookies that tell my future; they taste the same I suppose, although surely, surely the ones with fortunes taste sweeter, linger on your tongue a bit longer. Surely.
Did I tell you Sunday was an afternoon in the country, hours spent at a friend's house, a walk through the woods, all the flowering trees no longer abloom? Mardi Gras beads blowing in the breeze, the ones above next to some silver sage? Texas sage? Did I mention that? There is nothing to tell really, just time spent peacefully, dogs in the creek, silly conversation. A Sunday afternoon. Nothing more.
it felt quite personal when i happened upon it many months ago, and i have kept it secret, an image i go to now and then, not sure yet what secret it holds, what it's telling me, or if it's just a gift, though i think not, i think it's part of a language i am learning, struggling to speak, to read, a language with no alphabet, no grammar, a language of life, of being, of seeing. this character seems to say stop & go at the same time, seems to say you will fall and something will catch you, the landing will be easier than you think.
i am at work, my new home for now, and this workadaddy week comes to a rainy end with lily on the arm of the loveseat, watching the empty street, the no-curtained windows open to the view here on the bad side of the edge of downtown, which is quite peaceful actually. almost no traffic, just the darkness, a train trestle less than a block away, and how perfect is that? as i typed those words the train's whistle sounded in the night; it runs on tracks behind the across-the-street building and will come into view as it passes beyond, any moment now, the barriers are lowered, red lights blinking a warning, painting the boxcars a red glow as they slide past. a rainy night, a train, another evening me no tengo home; i sit with a cat, not maggie, who has been gone a month now, but lily-who-is-not-maggie. which takes some getting used to when you keep looking for ghosts. tonight i wondered about the timing of the whole exterminating the house thing, the need for a place to sleep sending me here to my business, my office, this cat waiting here, growing accustomed to all nighters with me; i wondered if there is more at work here than meets my aggravation. am i here for her? am i here so she is here for me? or is it just as it appears? happenstance. the house needed exterminating, me so sensitive to the chemicals, me such a homebody, needing a safe place, in limbo, and so here to the business i run, my other safe place.
me no tengo home lately, mine exterminated and me having a not pleasant reaction to that, waiting it out until the chemicals & smell go away, and the fleas & bugs & everything else also, and i have been sleeping in my office. the ever-wonderful michael bought an airbed for me so at least i am not on the floor, but we are busy & i am working late, and i am working on the last of the photos for my autumn Somerset Life article, due next week, and feeling very much in limbo, needing to be here, wanting to be at home and unable to. and yes, there are people i could stay with, but i am quite unpleasant company right now and exhausted again and needing to be alone at the end of each day, so my office proves the best solution. home each morning to open windows, shower & dress, home each evening to close the place up.
last night i was mary tyler moore in the grocery store - remember how she just rolled her eyes & shook her head & tossed whatever into her basket? i couldn't even manage that. i was too exhausted and while i badly wanted cherries, i didn't want 2 lbs. of them, and that's the only way they were buyable, so i just left and bought a smoothie instead. and not one of those green this and healthy that smoothies either - i bought one that actually tastes good, strawberries & blueberries with raspberry sorbet. i bought a big one and decided to take advantage of the wonderful breezy cool fabulous evening in the downtown square, just sit in the gathering darkness and unwind. it was not to be; a man wouldn't leave me alone, wanted to talk, so i left and headed back to work and louisa may alcott. next i am rereading the witch of blackbird pond.
Never mind that I didn't send her a birthday card this year.
Never mind that there was no gift.
Never mind that there was no Valentine's greeting,
no Easter Bunny.
Never mind all that.
She loves me.
I've sent nothing to anyone all year, in fact I sent no Christmas cards so even longer than all year - I've thought about it, I haven't forgotten a soul in my heart, but I was needed here at home and that was a truth but also an excuse, I admit it. I just didn't have the heart or the energy to shop for cards or make them and I just didn't care about pretty ribbons and envelopes, all those things that have always been so important. And I felt bad about it, but also selfish, just tired, hoping everyone understood, but unable to muster the caring if they didn't.
But the beat goes on.
Pretty feels more do-able.
Yesterday, all day,
Taupe silk shoes
pale teal sneakers,
the colors of this blog for my feet.
A bolt of striped fabric,
$5 for dusty blue-greens & creamy whites.
I have been cleaning my house, cleaning the business, reading. There are new t-shirts, linen trousers, a new purse, flowers as needed - take two and call me in the morning. The refrigerator has been cleaned, the freezer; I am stunned at how badly the "silverware" drawer needs scrubbing. It is all a mess. I have been on the kitchen floor, with a scrub brush & Comet, and there are canisters that once held cans of cat food awaiting their turn, sitting silently amidst whiskers & measuring cups on the kitchen counters. I move from one spot to another; my back old enough to need a new position every so often.
And the beat goes on.
There will be much tossed - I feel the need for a new spatula, a new colander. A spring cleaning of my life, new-found energy used to rid the house of sadness, of hard nights, of all those tears. The memories remain, the pictures, the tales told here, but the beat goes on and I must move forward. My fingernails are worse than ever, the nail on my right ring finger just now broken almost to the quick.
the catawba tree has bloomed and the blossoms are once again in the street, in the yards, on our cars, in our hair if we are lucky enough. it is a truth of spring, the blooming of this tree, pay attention it says, time is moving by, and i do, i do, i know where i am and when i am and i know this too shall pass, but now it is here, it has arrived, the falling of these flowers. i will mark it on my map. on this map i will also mark the falling of my tears; when you are in your fifties, crying lines stay on your face longer and on your heart longer, and those lines begin another map, or at least new roads on that map, or the ends of roads perhaps, but you are a map nonetheless, a living breathing constantly evolving (thank you Caroline) map. you are full of rivers and dangerous rapids and storm clouds, you are an aerial map, a map of the stars, a map of the earth and the oceans. you are a map that glows in the dark when all is black around you, and you are a map with a built in compass. mine is pointed true north, a tricky bit of business, true north not being constant, true north itself changing all the time; it requires continuous adjustments, sometimes it requires just following your heart, trusting it knows the way. it requires making notes of the small things - i am reminded of st. exupery in wind sand & stars:
" . . . what a strange lesson in geography i was given! . . . he spoke of orange-trees on the edge of town: "beware of those trees. better mark them on the map." and those three orange-trees seemed to me higher than the sierra nevada . . . "careful of that brook; it breaks up the whole field. mark it on your map."
all those things we think unimportant, all those small moments of which we take no notice. all necessary, all part of our map. the maggie road ends in wild clover blossoms under an oak tree. i mark it. i mark the falling of these catawba blossoms; they signal spring and also the beginning of the road into summer. a new summer, a different summer in too many ways to count, a new summer road. i make an x. i begin the walk down that road, my heart-compass leading me, mapping new roads, new stars, paying closer than ever attention to the details already there. i am adding baby owls, they have been on my map for years, but these are new babies, so new marks. a blue flower drawn on the map, marking the day of blue flowers, a basket awaiting me on the doorstep, comfort from a friend the day after maggie's death. it will be a soft map for a bit, though the road has been hard; the summer heat will soften that.
these treetops looked like lace against the sky; i was pulling out of the drive at work last week and the sun was beginning to fall away from the clouds and i just pointed my camera and shot. and there you go, that's how things are done, the very best things, you don't think too hard, you just go with your heart, and yes, yes, i know it's not art, it's not this and it's not that, but there is just all that empty-but-full sky which is how i feel lately, and later i realized it reminded me of a skirt i own and love, and well, it just works for me, and so there you go. it's not a shot that was there today, today was full of sunshine all the way to dark, and when i pulled out of the very same drive at an even later time, my sunglasses were just not enough and i had to shade my eyes with my hand to even partly see the street. and that means summer is coming. that and the 90 degrees we've had for a couple of days in a row, which i admit makes me pretty happy, it's felt for so long like warm weather would never get here. it will be cooler tomorrow and will feel more springlike, but in truth and though there are several weeks left, i feel as if i've missed spring somehow, feel as if may is signaling summer early.
but i am here and i am in the same spot, on the couch with the tv on, sound off, feet up, the computer growing hot on my lap and the night is outside and silence is inside, keeping me company. i dreamed of maggie a couple of nights ago and last night i awakened to her meows, my heart beating so fast for a moment, unable to pull out of another dream, and just when i thought i was awake, she meowed again, and i knew i was asleep, dreaming of being awakened by her.
at least i think i was.
perhaps a maggie ghost stood at the foot of the bed.
everywhere she walked, and places right there on the edge where she could lay down in their midst and still see all the way to home, to where she used to be; she could lay there and keep an eye on things and work on her message-sending skills, they weren't something one learned overnight. she wished she could send a dream to say she was okay, in fact more than okay, and she could see that calendar with her name on it in red ink - it was in the may 4 square and it said maggie/18, and she knew what a heartbreak that was causing, that unmet 18th birthday, and she remembered the day it was written, the prayers and hopes behind that writing, and she remembered how hard they'd fought for it, fought together, but the time had come, it had come, and she'd laid in the flowers down there and awakened in the flowers up here. she would tell her it was better here if she could, she would tell her she wished she could lay in her lap tonight - she could see the rain fall and could see her house and could see her sitting there as always with the tv on and the sound off, could see gene kelly dancing across the screen, and she knew how much she was missed, knew how much it would mean if she could just one more time, especially this rainy birthday eve, lay in her lap and grow warm against her and purr them both to sleep for a while.
we rode the backroads, the oil tops, the paved roads, drove past cows in the forests of east texas, and when once we stopped to take pictures on a deserted road overhung with trees, i smelled a sweetness in the air and turned to find wild honeysuckle nestled amongst the undergrowth. we drove from small country farms to spacious ranchland, the roadsides filled with wildflowers and sunshine and the quiet of sunday afternoon. she bought raw milk and free range eggs and cream peas and i walked to the fence line, land stretching away, away, away, bluest of skies overhead, green as far as i could see, soft rolling hills, yellow stripes of flowers and i breathed. deep. i took pictures of it all and the cow & calf above, and we stopped at an old cemetery on the way back; she climbed the fence to read the tombstones to me. born september 1880, died october 1881. old tombstones of babies and young men, civil war soldiers who survived the war but not the peace, confederate flags marking their graves. the wind was in our hair, the sun was on our skin, and we followed unknown roads to more old cemeteries, roads that looped in circles back onto the main road, which was not a main road at all, but it was our main road and we followed it home.
up at 5 this morning, unable to sleep, i'd been fighting it for a while, the house felt too hot, but the a/c made it too cold, and the whole place no longer feels like home anyway, everything is just different, the air molecules changed because there are only my breaths now, no maggie breaths, and i just couldn't stay, my jitteriness & sadness & grief & annoyance too much to fight. so off to work, a blanket thrown in the car, my laptop, a book, a coke, and i was here in 2 or 3 minutes, downtown, no one on the streets. lily cat was at the front door, wide awake, watching the emptiness, seemingly waiting for me. meowing loudly behind the glass before i'd even opened the jeep's door. i unlocked the business door and out she flew - she never ever does this, not out the front door - and as i hauled my stuff from vehicle to building, she was around the corner, up the driveway leading to the parking area in back. i locked everything up and followed - as she headed back to me, a garbage truck went by, lights flashing, engine roaring, and lily was off into the night, away from me in an instant, but still back into the parking area, so i wasn't worried. there is a house behind us which shares the parking lot, and people live there, so i didn't loudly call for her, and it took a bit to find her, calm her down, get her back in through the back door, but i managed and she managed and i lugged in my laptop, turned off lights that are usually left on, and covering my eyes against the street lights, i fell asleep on the loveseat. i awoke to find her with me; a crowded smooshed mess we were, and i was afraid to move, afraid she would leave me, i'd grown so used to maggie's last months, any movement on my part would send her looking for a steadier place, a more comfortable spot, one that stayed still as her balancing ability faltered. but lily stayed, and for 3 hours no matter how much i tossed and turned and tried to find room on this makeshift bed, she stayed. at last awake, i fed her and settled back here onto the loveseat, and she is with me now, leaning against me just like maggie did, but not trying to push her way into my lap. she is sound asleep, her head resting against my left hand, not minding if i use it, just swimming up from her sleep a bit, purring, and falling back.