When I try to go right you turn me left. When I say “No”, you cup your ear and feign deafness. When I hold up my hand and say, “Enough!”, you mimic my gesture and words, then burst out laughing. Like a rascally five-year-old. When I swallow my pride and ask you for something, you nod, and then proceed to give me something entirely different. Sometimes I wonder why I still talk to you. True– you are charming. But you are also incredibly infuriating. When I sweep my house you send in a hurricane. When I fall asleep you strike up the marching band. Now I see I have lived this life sitting at the chessboard. Foolishly trying to outwit you. Not realizing that the match is cleverly fixed, and always has been. In my favor. Your move.
What is it that you sometimes lose, and then find, that turns the day from bleakness to splendor in an instant? What to call it — that nameless flash, that infusion of un-summoned energy that flies you across a chasm believed uncrossable? On this side, a very capable gloom takes hold of your ankles and refuses to let go. Like a child throwing a tantrum on the floor. Its stubborn weight makes it difficult to walk with any semblance of grace. On this side everywhere you go, you drag an invisible, horizontal sadness with you. On that side, your feet have wings and whatever is so much as grazed by your glance, sparkles. Joy floods your being, gathers at your fingertips, stands ready to be released in the world like a spell. On that side, you live as royalty. Each moment unfolding like a red carpet in front of you. What transports you from this side to that, is a mystery. Nothing calculated or studied does the trick. It is triggered by things that are, but did not plan to be. Like the sight of a hummingbird hovering above a riot of purple flowers. Or a child’s hand stretched towards the moon. Yes. A thing so slight now electrifies you, draws you up, returns you to your proper home. Flouting the laws of gravity and time. And how to explain this feeling? Imagine a blighted apple falling in reverse. Raised up from muddy, trampled ground and reattached, round and whole to its green bough. Free to shine again. A small red sun. It feels…like that.
When I stop to consider the facts they astonish me. There you are couched in your own skin, and here I am in mine. No matter how close, we must each do our own living. Your heart cannot be persuaded to pump my blood. My lungs will not consent to breathe for yours. It is an odd arrangement. Inside me a mansion of memory and anticipation. A place other people may visit, like a museum. Inside you, a similar mansion. That I can visit and with your permission gaze at pictures on the wall. But only until closing time. And is this not a strange predicament? This seeming and inescapable individuality? The hard shell of ‘I’ that we live inside like soft-bodied sea creatures. When did we choose this? And on whose ill-advice? How different the world would be, if we could waft through different identities as easily as the wind inhabits the trees. Then the woman selling flowers at the street corner would be me. And the crumpled leaf of the half-blown rose in her bucket would be me. And the man reaching into his back pocket to pay for the bouquet – me. Me. Me. Then I would not be ‘I’ any more. And neither would you. No not at all and never again. Once out of the bottle, no genie of sound mind ever chooses to return, to such cramped, uncomfortable quarters.
A woman on a November morning is watching a squirrel beneath her window. In a small patch of dirt and grass and sunshine she sees him foraging. If asked she would be hard pressed to describe the color of his fur. It is a shifting landscape of grey, brown, white and black. His tail is a dancing plume. Everything about him is quick, alert, vigorous. He is alive, she thinks to herself, in a way that it is hard to be alive if you have been sitting in front of a screen much of the day instead of sprinting up and down tree trunks scouting out the choicest acorns and burying them in secret caches. Every so often he stands up on his hind legs and looks around to ensure that neither the government nor the blue jays are spying on him. [Just to be safe he relocates his stash a couple of times]. When he stands up, his front paws that functioned until that moment as legs, instantly become hands. In this stance he looks, astonishingly, like a little person. He picks things up, examines and eats them in a way that is quite human. But his jaw works more rapidly than any person alive. She marvels at his resourcefulness and pragmatism. This ability to find food in backyard flora and the foresight he has to put aside a portion of it for leaner times. She has read that squirrels, while admirably meticulous about burying their acorns, have a less than impeccable track record when it comes to retrieval. Lost in the myriad details of the squirrely life they are known to foolishly forget where they left their loot, in the way that humans stumbling out of airports and shopping malls, have trouble remembering where they parked their cars. But squirrel hoarding is not the same as human hoarding. Squirrels for instance have not been known to open Swiss bank accounts or shop at Costco. Also their hoarding habits frequently result in the birth of oak trees. It can be said with reasonable surety that human hoarding has yet to yield any such magnificent outcomes. And it occurs to her suddenly that human greed and negligence have destroyed forests that the squirrels’ acquisitive and forgetful nature helped plant. And it is at this precise moment that the squirrel beneath her window looks up. With a gaze so clear-eyed, vibrant, and empty of accusation, that she feels at once chastened and forgiven on behalf of her kind.
I wish you could have seen her as I did, in the early morning light. A little bird perched on the rearview mirror of our parked car. Alone and utterly unaware of her audience. She tips her body over the edge and for a brief moment thoughtfully surveys herself upside down. Then shoots up into the air like a firecracker, a feathered bundle of urgency, and attempts to fly directly into her reflection. Over and over again she repeats this sequence of steps. Undaunted by the obdurate glass or her head-on failure. Perhaps the sight of the slight, bright-eyed being in the mirror has moved her to admiration and compassion. “Don’t worry you beautiful creature,” she seems to be saying, “I see you — and I am coming to get you!” Standing there, I am captivated by how captivated she is by the bird-in-the-glass. How fiercely determined she is to make contact, to establish a birdly bond with the mythical “other”. She is oblivious to the situation’s impossibility. And I wonder if she is getting dizzy in the head. I wonder what her beak is made of. I wonder if she is driven by loneliness, nobility or a bit of both. “You sweet, silly bird!” I whisper. Close to an hour later she is still at it. And I wonder suddenly, what would happen, if you could catch a glimpse of yourself in this world and not know that it was you. I believe you too would be transfixed by the fragile beauty you saw. I believe you too would try, against reason and hope, to befriend the breathing miracle that you are.
Our marriage is 9 years old today. Were it a child it would be in 4th grade now. Chances are it would have lost its front baby teeth, and have memorized the names of all the planets (minus Pluto, which got demoted). It will have been informed that our Earth circumambulates the sun, but will not yet have been introduced to trigonometry or taxes. If, on the other hand, our marriage were a medium-sized dog, it would be 56 human years old today. It will have acquired, after years of frenzied puppyhood, an air of gravitas. It will have lost some hearing and declared a truce with the squirrels. It will spend inordinate amounts of time asleep in golden swaths of sunlight wearing a smile. And now seeing that we are considering hypotheticals, here’s another: if our marriage were a sturdy oak somewhere on a windswept hillside, it would still be waiting quietly for its first acorns (yet a decade perhaps two away). But hidden deep in its heartwood, it will have already begun a stunning and concentric collection of rings.
Our marriage, assuming you care to know, happens to be at once all and none of the above. A thing unto itself, unfolding and alive. Teachable, warm-bodied, deep-rooted. Mortal. And somehow more — so much more — than I dared ever ask of this dazzling world.
Footsteps in the hall and the familiar sound of a key turning in its lock. My husband is home. He drops his lunch bag by the door like a schoolboy. Hurry, he says, there’s something time-sensitive you need to see. I am pulled to my feet by curiosity and the urgency in his voice. We hustle into the cool, dark arms of a January night. There, he says, pointing. And I see it. Low in an ink black sky, a glowing vowel. The incandescent moon. Floating in the valley like a delinquent bauble, barely skimming the tip of an ancient pine. I want to stretch my hands out to it like a child. How many millennia old is that impulse? How old is the relationship between mortals and the moon? …Time-sensitive… Like falling leaf the phrase flutters and gleams in the moonlight. I consider its truth and poetry for the first time, unsettled by awe. Hurry (whoever-wherever-whenever you are). There’s something time-sensitive you need to see.