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Monday, June 1, 2015

L'Etranger

In two weeks a stranger will move into my house. This is the truth. In two weeks a friend I respect and trust will be living in my home. This is the same truth.
We met online and have known each other about two years. I believe we’ve become friends. At least, friendly enough that I asked him to house-sit while our family travels. DH is anxious. He doesn’t have two years of near-daily posts to reassure him. I, on the other hand, have seen this man's regrets and hopes. I’ve read stories of his family and his parents and his pets. We have not met in person, but I know him as well or better than many people with whom I spend time in real life. This is the strange thing about online friendships — the intimacy afforded by distance.

Still, I am nervous. Every time we displace ourselves I follow rituals of deep cleaning, but this time feels more urgent. My friend has never been inoculated to the quirks of my family. He’s never been over for supper or stopped by to chat. He’s coming in blind. And that makes me feel strangely naked and vulnerable. I scrub in preparation and wonder what stories my belongings will tell. What conclusions will be drawn from the spines on the his-n-hers bookcases -- my side full of young adult fantasy, gardening, and poetry, my husband’s a catalog of military history. The paintings on the walls and the sculptures in corners are bits of me on display. Who do they say I am?

I’m culling. I’ve gone through the linen closet and the bathroom cabinets. The children and I sorted through their rooms and captured five trash bags full of donations for the thrift store. Five years of old records are cleaned from my files. Ancient canned goods are pulled to the front to be eaten, and the freezer is nearly empty. The drifts of paper magnetted to the refrigerator have been curated to a few important pictures. I joke that I do this every time. I know better. I’m trying to make a good impression. This is silly, because — assuming my friend reads my posts in turn — he knows me as well as anyone.
This is all incidental. The intersection of our lives will be momentary. I will come home, and nothing will have changed. After months away, new books will be added to my shelf. I will see my art with fresh eyes. My friend will leave, hopefully to adventures of his own. We will stay in touch online, or maybe not. I will have met a friend. We will part, still strangers.

Sunflower

Winter darkness is difficult for me. The spanish word for sunflower is girasol -- literally: turn sun. I am a sunflower, turning to the light. Today the sun shone and I woke and smiled. The dogs took me for a walk. I took pictures and said good morning to neighbors as they sat on their porches facing the sun with steaming mugs of coffee. We came home. I have faced the sun. My mug steams. I am filled with light, and life is good.

Planting

We went to the plant store yesterday, my daughter and I. She pushed a flatbed cart and we collected random pots. She had been eager for days, pushing pushing pushing for us to go to the store. There was no time for me to plan my purchases. Usually I stare at the ground, considering the gaps, imagining late summer lushness. Gardens are tricky. In the first lust of spring it's easy to be fooled by the spare shoots surrounded by bare earth. There's a post-winter desire for abundance. But too much and the garden chokes itself, the final hurrah fizzling in a pool of green. Gardens are a constant lesson in both hope and humility.

I wasn't prepared. She was hot and tired after field day, and impatient with me. She is often impatient with me. I am more deliberate than she. I read instructions. I plan. I ponder. I consider possibilities and only then do I act. She is a hummingbird, chirping and changing directions so fast she leaves me dizzy. I admire her until I attempt to redirect her toward half-finished projects. Then we argue, and I catch her impatience, throwing away half-used things and growling that she needs to think her plans through.

We lost two roses this year, glorious giant bushes of pink flowers that marked my home as much as the yellow slide in front. My daughter chose stately white replacements, tea roses rather than floribunda. I like the titles. Tea. Floribunda. Grandiflora. Rugosa. They feel like a secret code which I pretend to understand. I chose Spanish Sunset, an nother tea, because I crave intensity in my garden. The contrast beween winter's white and brown, and summer's vivid oranges and purples satisfies some ancient seasonal part of me.

I will plant everything today. Agastache and thyme and hyssop. In the heat of the mid-summer sun my garden smells like a fertile candy store. I will miss much of it this year. I am planting hope.
It's a solitary ritual for me, digging in compost, knocking the pots, watering everything in. Alone, but not lonely as I think of my mother and helping in her garden. Then I will stand back and admire the thin spires and tiny carpets, islands in the dirt, imagining the glory to which I hope to return in August.

Field Day

Today is field day. Today I will stand on the sidelines, cheering my child in ways my mother never could. I always came home with meaningless participation ribbons. We shared our disinterest in those ribbons, my mother and I. Field day still holds no meaning for me.

There is less competition now. There are more team events, and silly ones where blindfolded students with squirt bottles hunt down their teachers with the vocal support of their peers. The very tall first grade teacher is just the wrong height, and walks away from the field with a soaked crotch. We bystanders are unseemly in our amusement. 

I wish adults in offices could have field days. Not horrific structured "team building" events dreaded by everyone but management, who pat themselves on the back for their innovativeness while the staff wishes they could be back in their cubicles poking at the internet and avoiding the busybody in the next hole. No. A real field day. A day every year when we could romp and attack each other with squirt bottles. A day when we could be surrounded by good natured cheering and have ridiculous competitions and there was no judgement. Days when the reward was pointless and we could be honest in our disinterest, focusing instead on our popsicles. 

When I am finally released by my sticky and triumphant child I will come home to sewing projects and email. And I may enjoy a popsicle.

Routine

Shuffling through the routine this morning. My daily dance, done to the music of "mom, have you seen . . . " I resent and love it in equal measures. My son walks into the kitchen and we hug before I hustle him to his breakfast while I make lunches for us all, love quietly packaged with their sandwiches.

He is nearly as tall as I am, now. Each successive mark on the doorframe is a countdown to his leaving. I carry goodbyes inside my ribcage. If I think of them, they flutter until I can't breathe. Instead I wake my daughter and grump at her for being slow.

I can't cherish this time, this moment, because doing so acknowledges that these moments are finite. That my routine will come to an end. I give each child a hug and a kiss and send them off with my love. That will never end. 

Today it is warm enough to go to the garden store and acquire pretties. Miss Awesome and I are going to plant them this afternoon. Before then? Phone calls and deskwork. It feels good to get things off my list.

Memorial Day

The sun shines. The sun shines through the skylight. The sun shines through my eyelids. The inside of my skull glows.

Thoughts of war fill my head as I wake. It is a day to remember but I am confused. I think of our million-year ancestors and wonder at the gifts they gave us in tiny genetic packages. Strong spines, forward looking eyes, and the urge to conquer through violence. We call them primitive, these early hominids, but the first story on my oh-so-advanced electronic device is about war. Who is more primitive - the club wielder who attacks his neighbor, or the business people who develop ever more sophisticated ways to kill larger numbers with less personal involvement?

I remember. I am reminded daily by the men on the street corners who are broken and asking for help, though the only true cure would be a time machine to take them back before they were scarred into helplessness. I remember the cold maps with their arrows. I know how to translate the advances into casualties. I remember those lessons. My heart sinks, knowing that memory isn't enough.

The sun shines. The inside of my skull glows. I am become a being of light. I shine. I open my eyes and it is bright. I am safe and warm. There is blue sky. I have my children with me, and today we will remember, and maybe, just maybe, their generation will learn the right lesson. Before that, there is bacon, and there are cinnamon rolls.

Sounds

I am surrounded by sounds today. The dishwasher gurgles. The radio sings. Rain attacks the skylight. My dog has begun to snore in wheezes and whistles that make me wonder if a cartoon is playing in a distant room. The house shivers and the plates in their cabinets rattle when the washing machine spins.

Today is a day for doing. I have destinations all around the city marked on a map in my mind. I draw red lines between each stop, making constellations of obligation. Do rats make maps when they run a maze? Can they see the stars? Like them, I shall reward myself when I have followed every line and found a stopping point.

The maze never truly ends. I understand why people seek gods. Seek meaning. Do rats measure the benevolence of humans-become-gods, or do they preach acceptance in their huddled dens? I have stepped outside that bewildering path, seeking to make my own meaning, create my own rewards. The same stars shine down, but the constellations are my own.