The Craftsbury Public Librarian invited me to host a book discussion for my book — full disclosure, I’ve known Susan since before I was a mother.
Because there’s a pandemic, we sat outside in the library’s tent. Because it’s Vermont and October, it was raining, but that not chilly. And October brings out the handknit-hat crowd.
For months, I’ve been worried about Unstitched joining the public ranks from my own teeny tiny little world. Unstitched is about opioid addiction and addiction writ large, but it’s also about my story, too. Besides sharing the stories of others, I share mine, too. As my youngest daughter would say, Did you have to take out the whole skeleton? Maybe just a bone or two would have done.
I took out (most of) the skeleton.
But yesterday’s afternoon made me realize, yes, this is why I wrote this book. To have it gnawed over by those I know and complete strangers. Chewed over. Shared. At the very end, a woman who hadn’t read the book asked if I had a copy to sell. I didn’t. But a woman across the tent jumped up and offered her copy. Seeing my book go hand in hand — that, my friends, is manna for the writer’s soul.
The wild grapes I’ve discovered on my run have withered. I stop and gnaw their purple skins. These edibles are at that interesting place between half-sour and vaguely sweet, tangy.
These grapes sum up Vermont autumn — sweet while it lasts, but fleeting, fleeting. On this last day of September, I go about my day with that familiar sense of the garden for this year at its end, the cold and early days drawing around us.
It’s a mixed sense, like so many things in this life. No more swimming in the evenings or driving barefoot, the windows rolled down and the breeze pushing in. Instead, the cats loll before the wood stove. The daughters talk and talk. I pull the curtains. Here’s where we are, for now.
“Slow, slow! For the grapes’ sake, if they were all, Whose leaves already are burnt with frost, Whose clustered fruit must else be lost— For the grapes’ sake along the wall.”
Our cucumbers withered and died this year, producing little. For years, I’ve built my little mounds and buried seeds or planted my seedlings. This year, the extreme heat, the fluctuations of cold and rain, and sultry heat again, made the vines lie down and quit.
The queen of my garden is the sunflower, their golden faces open high above my head, friend to the sparrows and finches who dart through their stalks.
In the face of grim news, I offer this as a tiny sliver: the sunflowers are growing mightily. Bees are fattening.
Waiting for a Planning Commission meeting, I end up with an odd half hour and swim in the lake. What does ‘planning’ mean anymore, anyway? It’s enough that I grabbed my swimsuit on the way out the door.
My life feels like an intersection between work days, rising Covid cases, an upcoming book release, and the very real stories of my daughters.
The world, indeed, goes on. My daughter and friend swim in the same lake in the early afternoon. When I return that evening, we stand on the back porch, eating cucumbers and avocado toast, talking. My oldest returns after dinner out with a coworker who’s packing up and moving elsewhere, in a story full of switchbacks.
My youngest drives us up a nearby hill. The sun has just lowered below the horizon, and the sky is swirled with rose-petal pink and hues of blue, golden at the horizon. We walk up a short path for a better view, and she leads the way into a field of goldenrod. The crickets sing madly. A mosquito lands on my upper arm and sinks its proboscis into my skin. My daughters are both talking. The mosquito swells with a drop of my blood, then disappears into the fattening glooming.
As we head home, my daughter drives with the windows open, one elbow cocked over the door. I love to drive, she tells me, her eyes on the road.
For a chunk of this weekend, I read Susannah Cahalan’s memoir about the madness that attacked her body, the book so many people I knew read a few years ago, and I picked up from a roadside free pile this week.
The heat’s returned, with fine swimming weather and thunderstorms. Sunday evening, we kayak in Greensboro, carrying out bacon and tomato sandwiches and watermelon. Afterwards, I swim far out from shore, and swim back slowly, watching my daughters who lie on the pier, talking.
At home, I walk around the house, opening windows to let in the evening’s cool air, hanging towels over the porch railings, talking to my brother on the phone. He tells me about listening to S-Town. Over the porch railings, I see Japanese beetles clustered on the primrose.
Cahalan’s book asks that hard question: how much of our lives do we direct? Who’s in the driver’s seat? My brother keeps talking, and around us the past rises. “You can’t escape that shit,” he says.
I stand on the porch steps, watching my daughters unload the kayaks. Rain has skipped over us. In the morning, I’ll need to water.
“Maybe it’s true what Thomas Moore said: “It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed.”
Late afternoon, shaking off the day’s chaos, a light and very welcome rain sprinkles down.
I’m drinking a glass of water and picking a few rouge leaves from here and there in the garden, when I look up and see a rainbow, a gem, tucked over the hill.
I stand, the rain falling ever so slightly. We need rain in a serious way, in a way that makes me worried about gardening. Every evening, I give little sips of water to my plants. But for this moment: water and color.