Lost, Not Lost.

Tuesday afternoon finds me somewhat lost on the way to a soccer game. In a rush, I glance briefly at the map, take a mental note, and head off. My cell phone has given up its ghost, and I know I have a paper atlas in the back of my Subaru, jammed beneath a box of oil, if need be. I drive the way I knit — by feel — and generally that gets me there. In this case, driving by feel gets me to Hazen’s Notch, a twisty dirt road climb. The road has been recently graded; it’s slick with falling rain.

I’m headed to a town where I haven’t been in nearly 25 years. The last I was here, my then-husband and I were following a lead on a vacuum pump for maple sap. We pulled into a two-story house that was recently built. A pregnant woman dialed her husband at the town garage, and he drove up in a moment. That afternoon, I wanted to be pregnant. While our husbands talked about the pump, I asked her about the pregnancy. She wanted to buy a crib with the money from the sap pump.

We paid in cash. The pump remained one of the most reliable pieces of equipment in our sugarhouse. It became my nemesis, too, with the absence of housing around the belt. I feared for my hair and scalp, my fingers. It drank oil like crazy. It worked hard.

This Tuesday, I’m not really lost. I know, enough, where I’m headed, how to read the sky and rivers, the mountains, to get me in the right direction. I pull over near a swamp where maples are in full red already. What do you know, I think to myself, that sight is worth the drive.

Take Joy.

There’s a line in a Raymond Carver that describes a woman as a long tall drink of water. The line reminds me of my oldest daughter — a kind of welcome draught. Myself, I’m more like a splash in the face.

She and her friends are in their early twenties and have lived an amount of life that surprises me at times. At her age, I’d had a whole, full childhood and was drifting through young adulthood, through college and graduate school and what amounted to an awful of driving around the country and sleeping in the back of our Volkswagen Rabbit. I’d sandwiched in a number of jobs, but the economy was sparse in those days. The pre-internet world was slower, less fierce, less competitive. In the collective vocabulary, the words climate change, pandemic, trauma, were never bandied around.

So on these balmy, early autumn weekends, it’s a pleasure to see her strap the kayaks on her car and head off for a pond ringed by mountains. Summer in Vermont is always too short. But this year, in particular, has been especially brief. Maybe it’s where I am in my life, with my youngest about to fly from the proverbial nest. But the stresses of the pandemic — hardly just for me, but collectively — have worn profoundly into our world. A delayed car part on order seems something hardly worth considering. As a personal sanity strategy, these lovely, golden autumn days, I pause outside and listen to the cricketsongs, the ruffle of wind on leaves that aren’t long for this world.

One thing I wish I knew in my twenties is that happiness matters. At that age, I had a whole confused theory about happiness versus pleasure, saving my soul and the planet, writing and sacrifice, and a narrow view of good parenting. Silently, I think to myself, Take joy where you find it. Surely our world needs more laughter. And rowing your narrow boat makes you strong.

…. Last, Streetlight published an essay of mine today. Many thanks!

Interlude.

It’s been a long time since my little family and I went anywhere just for fun, to explore coastline or trails. Friday morning finds us sitting beneath an enormous oak tree eating donuts, admiring a salt marsh, and then chatting with a woman about delphiniums in a community garden.

Two years and some into the pandemic, my little family has grown up. We are years past the summer where I took my daughter and a friend canoe camping with a giant teddy bear. Once upon a time, I believed I could keep the chaos of the world distant from my family — impossible, impossible. For these few days, the chaos of the world reigns on while we’ve carved out a small space of Uno and dumplings, rock and sand and ocean, the silliness of leaning over a balcony railing and watching how city folks prize parking spaces.

We’re in a sea of songbirds in these tall maples surrounding our temporary home. As for that chaos — how clearly I remember my own young womanhood and how hungrily I dove into my own share of life, how I embraced the chaos that came my way. I underestimated how hard it would be to shape chaos into creativity; maybe we all misjudges the depths of life. No longer in the Age of Sippy Cups, my daughters beat me at cards. I still win at trivia.

Mother Noise.

Summer study…

In the middle of the night, I read Cindy House’s memoir Mother Noise. House struggled with a heroin addiction. Eventually, I turned off the light and lay awake, listening to the cricket song through the open window. It was the deepest, loneliest part of the night, somewhere in the stretch from midnight to four a.m. Four a.m. is the hour that seems reasonable to rise and get the coffee brewing. For years, I dreaded this time of night. One of the great pleasures of sobriety is that the nether world of dreaming has returned to me.

For days, the trifecta of my daughter’s 17th birthday, her junior prom, and the anniversary date I was married 28 years ago has soured my mood. Here’s the thing about being a solo parent: you’re forever cut in half, wondering why the hell the other parenting half of the children is attending a party elsewhere.

But in those hours, thinking of Cindy Noise, I began wondering about what else might have happened rather than the story I keep telling myself of a father still parenting his daughters. The thing is, my life — like anyone’s — might have turned out entirely differently. I became sober. But I could have become a heroin addict. Given a different set of circumstances, sure, why not? I loved inebriation, as long as it was good. For the first time, the real possibility of this looms before me.

The crickets chirp on. I begin to sense my life shifting, just a little, just the smallest way out of sour.

Later that afternoon, I’m driving with my daughter. She parks at an empty storefront beside the run-down laundromat in town. On the granite steps of that former bank building, a little girl, about five or so, is sitting beside a large stuffed giraffe. The giraffe is hard-worn, well-loved. The little girl holds a picture book between the two of them, her lips moving. She stops when she sees me standing on the sidewalk. I glance down at her pink sandals, her purse open with a memo notebook inside. Then I nod and hurry along, leaving this child to what she’s doing.

Oh, sweet world. So much harshness. So much to cherish.

Girl on a Bicycle.

Walking to mail a package, I hear pebbles grinding under bike tires and step back to let a girl on a bicycle pass by. She’s about ten or so, and she shakes her head and slows. I step back on the grass and tell her to go ahead. She swoops around me, wordlessly, then cuts out from the sidewalk to the road.

We’re along a busy road, but for this moment, there’s no traffic. She heads down the center of the road, crossing back and forth over those the double yellow lines. She doesn’t wear a helmet on her dark curls, and she’s riding a beat up old bicycle. She pedals quickly down the hill, the wind lifting her hair.

In a world so burdened by fear, encumbered by care, this girl flies down the pavement, heads into the parking lot of a storage facility, and disappears.

Self Portrait.

My daughter turns 17. On our way home from dinner in Montpelier, she drives my car with her friend in the passenger seat. The girls have known each other since they were eight-years-old and their legs dangled from chairs. The girls take the long way home, passing an estate on a dirt road with a stunning view of the mountains and sky. Cows graze in the fields. One girl plans to be a lawyer, the other a doctor, and they scheme to buy a house like this. In their pretty sundresses, the girls are laughing.

At dinner, the server spilled a Shirley Temple on my daughter, splashing her with cranberry juice and ice. Both girls have stickiness up and down their bare legs. Someday, years away maybe, they’ll still laugh about that birthday drink and splash. Meanwhile, I keep looking through windows, seeking stories, seeing pieces of myself.

Here’s a review of Unstitched that made my heart sing.