In the dark, we walk downtown and leave letters in the mailbox. Through the valley’s mist, house and streetlights glow. November looms. Poet Thomas Hood described November: “No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.”
The news around us is of two, unrelated homicides, neither far from our house, in our rural state with scant violent crime. In the dark, I bring in an armful of wood and pause for a moment. Across the valley, I see a pair of headlights crest a dark hillside and begin a descent, slow to my eyes through the mist.
Through the house windows, I see my daughters before the wood stove, our walls painted butter-yellow. The crickets are gone. Late fall pushes in. Every year, the darkness enfolds us again, inescapable and mysterious.
In a dream, my daughter drives along an interstate and rounds a curve. A semi spreads across the road, its back-end across our lane. In a fraction of a moment, I predict we’ll hit the truck. Before I can speak, my daughter steers to the right, and I have a sickening foreboding that she’ll hit the truck and I, on the right, will emerge unscathed. I’m not afraid really; it’s grief that nails me.
She steers us around the truck, over the grass, back onto the road, and keeps driving. My heart hammers.
In the dark, I lay awake. There’s a lesson here, I counsel myself.
On this rainy October morning, here’s a few lines about parenting from Anne Lamott and an excerpt of my book in The Fix.
…one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.”
― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I knock off work early on Friday afternoon and head west with a friend to our daughters’ soccer game. There’s only so many high school soccer games I’ll attend in my lifetime; I’ve missed plenty this year.
It’s October but feels weirdly like July, with 75 degree temps, sunlight on foliage that’s at peak color. As I drive towards Lake Champlain, the terrain flattens. At the game, where we meet another mother and sprawl on the grass, seagulls swoop low. Flocks of geese fly overhead, forming Vs. At the end, despite the loss, our girls are smiling, hugging us in their sweat-soaked jerseys.
As the sun slips below the horizon, I drive back along that same route, retracing our blue highway journey from flat farming land through the green mountains and along the winding Lamoille River. I keep on through the twilight. A crescent moon hangs to our right. We talk and talk, about the complexity of being teenage females in our world, and then beyond that, too, how the past steers our own lives, hammering through generations.
As I drive, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I keep thinking of Joseph Campbell, whose voluminous writings on myth shaped my thinking since I was a teenager. “Life is, in its very essence and character, a terrible mystery—this whole business of living by killing and eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all its pain, to say that this is something that should not have been.”
At my house, we stand for a moment beneath the starlight. In my house, our upstairs glass-in porch glows, where my older daughter is taking notes, her laptop streaming a class. My friend drives away, back to her house, but I stand there for a moment longer. I’ve long resisted what I’ve seen as the superficiality of Be Here Now, as though the past doesn’t matter. Suddenly I see I’ve looked at what time means all the wrong way. Be here now with the past — another koan.
I walk up the back steps and flick on the porch light for my youngest child.
….. A few last things. Here’s a New York Times piece on IG and teen girls. Rick Agran of Bon Mot, a show about poetry and the literary arts, on the local Goddard College radio, will broadcast my Galaxy Bookshop event this Sunday, October 10, at 5 p.m.
Last, the Children’s Literacy Foundation hosts a virtual Book Club for Grown-Ups I’ll host, next Friday, October 15, at 7 p.m. The Waterbury Roundabout has details. I have a particular soft spot for CLiF — an organization that gives free books to kids in rural New Hampshire and Vermont. How cool is that??
Late afternoon finds me running along the former railroad bed in a rare kind of October sunlight — a gift of warmth and honeyed autumn light. I stop where I always do, where the transformation from railroad bed to trail hasn’t happened yet. The rusting iron bridge is covered with boards, and I’m careful there.
Where a giant hole gapes with a view of the Lamoille River below, someone has spray painted You Die Here and an arrow pointing down, as if the passerby couldn’t put that hole and a potential demise together. I stand there and affirm, Sure, that would be a bad fall.
An otter runs along the riverbank, slips beneath the water, and surfaces again. Two ducks glide slowly. I crouch at that edge for a good long while, in no particular rush to head back on that trail.
In the end, of course, there’s nothing else to do but tighten my laces. My feet crunch through the fallen leaves that are piling high, releasing that inimitable scent of broken leaf and moist soil — the smell of a New England childhood.
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.
Pulling up dead cucumber vines in my September garden, I realize my main crop this year is a forest of sunflowers. In years past, I’ve verged at times into the maniacal side of gardening. This year, however…. this year, as we all know, has simply been this year.
My oldest wanders out to the garden, her head bent to one side, braiding her hair. She’s begun training on the local volunteer ambulance crew, and tonight is her first overnight shift. She tells me she’s going to stay up all night. Why would I sleep?
My garden soil is dry, hot from the sun beneath my bare feet. The fall greens — kale and Brussels sprouts — are interspersed with brown stalks of dill, seeds drying.
Hidden in my forest of flowers, I remember when I was eighteen and left home. One of the first things I did was stay up all night, wandering around outside in the dark with a friend until the sun came up. It was the first time I realized how long a single night can stretch.
She straightens, and I admire her braids. She’s all grown up, heading out into the world to do her own thing and make her own way. Still, I remember her at four in her pink overalls, determined not to sleep then, either. She hurries away, and I stand there, with my dirty hands, watching.
We need enormous pockets, pockets big enough for our families and our friends, and even the people who aren’t on our lists, people we’ve never met but still want to protect. We need pockets for boroughs and for cities, a pocket that could hold the universe.”