My daughter brings home a booster shot and sticks my arm. That night, I wake with dreams of email and work, of words that move through my mind, and then all of that passes. The cats and I lie before the wood stove, watching the flicking red embers through the glass. After each of my children’s births, I felt as though I had reached through a channel and touched the other world, that realm where I originated and where someday again I’ll return. A friend’s brother passes from Covid. She tells me, God must have a plan, but I don’t know what it is. For a moment, I think wicked thoughts about Catholicism, but that passes, too. Who am I to judge her faith, what will carry her and her family through hard days? In these December days of scant light and long nights, my daughter comes into my room and opens my window, waking me. A fox screams. We kneel at the window, gazing at the snow on the giant mock orange beside our house. The fox shrieks again. We listen, hard. In my mind, I begin imaging a message here — the two of us, the cold air, the moonless night, wild creature. Then I quit and simply listen.
….. who checked me out countless times with my bags of cat litter and chocolate chips and toilet paper and English muffins. We always did the usual ‘good afternoon’ or ‘have a nice day’ kind of thing. Then one day, she tugged the sleeves of her sweater over her wrists and said, “Seven years I’ve worked here, and they’ve never fixed that cold air coming down on me.”
Come the pandemic, and she’s disappeared. Where you are now, I have no idea, but, gracious, woman, I hope no cold breeze dumps down on you all day.
… Rereading Ann Patchett in anticipation of her upcoming book: “I could understand why Gautama had to leave his wife and child in order to find the path to nirvana. The love between humans is what nails us to this earth.”
The waxing moon is especially cream-hued tonight, strutting her mysterious beauty. No nirvana here, but plenty. Plenty.
In a light rain and pitch dark, my daughters and I arrive at Montpelier’s Hubbard Park for the annual Enchanted Forest. Masked, spread out, bundled up, I have the strange sensation that the three of us are alone, and yet not alone.
The forest path winds along lit jack o’lanterns and burning torches, and among live musicians and giant puppets. Near the crest of the hill glowing paper lanterns decorate a giant oak tree.
The climax of the walk is a creation story re-enactment of a very old woman. Her black dog unravels her weaving as she tends to the changing seasons. As the rain falls more steadily, I realize the story is the tale of my life, as a writer and a mother — the story of the tension between order and disorder and the human longing for order to reign. Yet total order, total perfection, is impossible in this earthly realm.
We walk back through the mud puddles. Before heading home, my oldest pulls into a convenience store. Under a well-lit overhang, I stand outside, watching a man pump gas into an enormous SUV. He’s with a woman wearing a coat that falls to her ankles, a pretty garment with leaves and vines. I’m too far to hear what they’re saying, but I see his hand reach out and slip the top button closed on her coat and smooth the collar over her clavicle.
Through the plate glass window, my daughters stand at the store’s counter, buying hot chocolate. They’re wearing masks, so I can’t see their mouths, but from the way they look at each other, I know they’re laughing.
November looms tomorrow. Our New England darkness. Tighten your coat collar.
My daughter and I are standing on a street corner in Montpelier, Vermont, talking about some little thing — maybe the mighty silver maple on the library’s lawn and how those leaves are always the last to turn gold. How I remember this every year at the same annual mark, and then forget this for the rest of the year.
While we’re talking, I keep thinking of this lovely library, and how I took my daughters there as little girls. Later, I often worked all day in the upstairs reading rooms with views of the trees. Not so, anymore, in our pandemic world.
Across the street, a couple kicks fallen leaves at each other. I stop talking, thinking, Oh, no, what fresh hell is this? when the couple begins laughing. They’re each holding white paper cup, and he has a paper bag that might be full of sweet delicious things from a nearby bakery.
That moment — that tiny joyful moment — opens up our day. Sweet normalcy. Oh, yes. Bring that on.
One of my most favorite autumn poems:
on a withered branch
sits a crow
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’ve been on a reading binge on the Anthony Swofford/Christa Parravani husband and wife author duo, jumping around their memoirs. I picked up Parravani’s most recent book, Loved and Wanted, and then interlibrary-loaned others. Swofford wrote Jarhead — the marine memoir that just about everyone was reading a number of years ago, and I never did.
Yesterday morning, my oldest daughter got up at three to make her flights to visit my parents in New Mexico. In those murky depths of the night, I got up at three, too. When she left, a cat and I lay on the couch, reading Hotels, Hospitals and Jails. Ending with a father and son RV journey, the book’s ending did that miraculous thing, spinning not just that book but how I look at literature in a wider, more powerful light.
Hotels ends with the beginning of the couple’s marriage. Parravani’s Loved and Wanted takes place years into marriage and baby-raising. That, perhaps, is about all I’ll say about that.
My papers and notebooks were scattered around the couch from the virtual select board meeting I attended the night before. Nearly four hours long, the Selectboard discussed darn near everything in town, from federal Covid money to the sheriff’s update regarding a shooting to whether the board should consider moving a road. While democracy may be struggling in much of the country, in rural Vermont, messy democracy still rules.
Autumn is nearly over
that person dressed in fine silk
has borrowed everything.