As I spread the smelly black goo, I feel my body working. I get into a rhythm, pushing the puddle of it along and then back again. My mind gets into its rhythm, my breath is labored as sweat pours from my brow, but it is steady and even. All this is for an end result. Inside my daughter is cutting in the edges of color in the downstairs bathroom. We both mourn the loss of the dark purple, scattered with stars and galaxies, hand painted. I leave it on the ceiling, as a small rebellion. Today, I have decided will be the big push day. I paint the stairway to the basement. I paint the ceiling, the walls and the downstairs bathroom. I recover the driveway.
I have so much to do by my goal date, I find myself uncertain if I will be able to do it all. I have run out of money. I surely will be out of time. I need two more of me to do the work. I need a patron, I need an influx of money. I need more hours in the day. I need free labor.
I feel a certain pride in what I am able to do by myself, one thing I am not able to do is figure out how to use a caulk gun. I throw it on the ground in frustration and then go to the hardware store to buy a squeeze tube. I am annoyed. But there is this pride. I look at the paint on my fingers, and think of how it is good to be strong, fierce and independent. I think of how good it is to have the ability to do these things, and that despite the weight of my body, there is tremendous strength and stamina. But wouldn’t it be nice to have manicured fingers, to be encrusted in diamonds, sitting by a pool, a fashion magazine on my lap, listlessly glancing at photos, and only reading the captions of the most interesting pictures. And watching lazily as the pool boy vacuums out the pool? I imagine this life, I imagine myself as this woman, as I spill another puddle of goo on the driveway. Sweeping it over this way and back again.
He looks at me with those big brown eyes, and he barks at me. He looks at me, he looks at the mess in the room I am working on. He huffs at me, a bark that means go out, but he was out only a short time ago. Okay buddy I say okay. I shower first because I am sweaty, dusty and covered in the sticky clingy bits of animal hair and shredded paper that faced me as I sat on the floor. I decide to go about a quarter of a mile further from home, eyeing the dark clouds. I wonder if I might have made an error when the wind picks up at the farthest place from home. I feel a drip on my calf, my shoulder blade, my forearm though I do not see any dark spots on the pavement. Soon the pavement is covered with the spots. The dog alerts me to something, I stop and look and see a turkey vulture sitting on a small patch of grass. I stand and look at it until it flies off into the trees. I wonder as to its symbolism. I have not seen one in the city, ever.
I return home and make blueberry pancakes for myself and for the dog. Then I get ready for bed. I feel so tired, the emotional reset that always happens to me at the end of a school year. I close my eyes and listen to the soft rain falling.
I procrastinate, thinking it will be emotionally difficult, and because it is ugly dirty work. I set out three boxes, garage sale, keep, Morgan. I have grown tired of the clutter, of the rows of books, of the tools no one will ever use, of the wooden things bought for never completed projects, of the objects for projects started but not thought out, failed projects that crashed off the wood siding, that always I cleaned up. A new pile starts, garbage, recycled metal, things that those who come in to replace the fleeing souls might need.
I realize that I feel no attachments to these accouterments of another life, to these leaves of another season, to these things coated in dust, to these rags. Simplicity feels like a royal robe. And as the piles grow in size I realize with a small feeling of joy that the keep pile is tiny and even that has many items that I feel no attachment to, instead I feel a pang that I might need it, though in many cases I have never needed any of it.
When the turkey vulture soared from this still living tree, it squawked some message about this place being our little home, and yet it never was. It has always been my labor and my love that keep this place afloat. I see that now. My labor, and for many years, my money. And yet its ghost still lingers here. It feels so cold, my breath exhales in a cloud of icy fog, I shiver.
I have yet to decide which road to take next, I just know that what must be done, must be done. I cannot escape it. The steps I take now are leading me into a cave. I close my eyes, and reach out with my fingers.
It must be like learning to read braille.
I feel its texture, and its damp cool breath, I know that there will be spiders but I am not afraid.
She comes in my room and asks me if I enjoy going to galleries, my answer is like me, frank and upfront. I have many issues with galleries. First I hate the pinky finger pointing in the air as the wine or tea is sipped. What kind of markers do you use. Oh sharpies or some cheap marker they sell at X. Oh well I use nothing but the best supplies. Um okay. Congratulations. Would you like some cucumber water? Sure thing. But I would rather have lemon water. or water water. Just drink your damn tea the right way. Pretentious ass.
You stand looking at a urinal or a bucket of piss, or some image of a teenager spying on a woman as she masturbates. Or an anatomically correct drawing of a testicle. Okay. I cannot help but think somebody is in the green room laughing his or her ass off as I stand here using flowering language to describe how astonishing and avant garde and cutting edge and visionary it is.
I tell her about waiting in line for 45 minutes to see some installation in DC last year. Once you got in it was literally a dark room with a white wall and a red light. Cutting edge, and visionary. I said in my super loud voice, are you kidding me, I waited in line for 45 minutes for THIS? This is stupid and inane and like PT Barnum said there is a sucker born every minute and I am the one born for this minute.
And frankly that Eric Fischl that to this day I cannot even look at because it is so offensive to my eyes, the drawing is just porn, and not even porn that makes you feel a turned on, it makes you feel dirty. It kept his name in my head though. I didn’t even have to look it up. The book is in my box of sell or throw out though, the rest of the book is great but that picture on the front cover skieves me bad. Real bad. Although technically it is a very good painting, if he didn’t shock you, you wouldn’t really give it a second glance.
And as for the Picasso that someone spray painted. Okay have you actually looked at the painting? It wasn’t even a very good one. But because it has Picasso’s name on it is a masterpiece, it is priceless, it is a tragedy. Even art magazines don’t feature new artists, Picasso and Matisse, the Impressionists, O’Keeffe, yes amazing art, but tired and old, and do we have to be shocked for it to catch our attention?
Yes I guess we do.
So she says to me, so the emperor walks by and you say oh look its just a cube with pubic hair.
Yep I say.
I am going to make it.
You should do it live she says.
I am gagging.
The critics will say it will just curl your senses.
I am laughing.
(Shit I just gave away an amazing idea.)
Maybe I will do spun sugar dripping from the ceiling with all the animal hair dust bunnies floating about the room so it sticks to the spun sugar. It will be astonishing, cutting edge, such a profound message about the nature of humanity.
Many of our local lakes, and rivers struggle with an invasive species of mussel called the Zebra Mussel. It wrecks havoc on our ecosystem as well as water based infrastructure. A native of Russia they were originally thought to have been brought in on the hulls, anchors, or ballast water of boats entering the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway. Although they have destroyed much they also have helped the ecosystem because they filter toxins from water, and have actually done some good with the highly polluted Great Lakes and according to Wikipedia (all of the things I stated previously I knew from following this for many years but this is new to me…) they have actually been accounted for the increase in the population of small mouth bass.
In Clark Reservation where I hike as often as I can, there are several invasive species, buckthorn a shrubby tree that was brought here as a purge medicine, chokes out other species of trees, and make bushwhacking very difficult. Also the Pale Swallow-wort an invasive species of milkweed that takes over the natural plants, including the local common milkweed that monarch butterflies love, swallow-wort is however, toxic to monarchs and cattle for that matter. But when I heard on the news the other day that one of the great fears from the Japanese Tsunami is the possibility of a new invasion of unwanted species, I had to stop and think.
Zebra Mussels carried on the hulls of ships is a product of human invasion. Tsunamis are a natural occurrence of nature, and therefore are not the events that transpire with new species being introduced to the western coastline just a product of change and natural selection? Something we should embrace as we continue to destroy our own ecosystem? As we continue to kill off species of plants and animals around the world, not only by our own introduction of toxins to the environment, but also by our introduction of green house gases to the atmosphere, or global climate change. Many species which occur naturally in our area are predicted to die out and a climate more in line with North Carolina’s ecosystem will replace ours, do we not want hurricanes to blow pollen, seeds, and flying creatures into our region to replace that which we are killing already?
One day I was having a conversation with someone about Global Climate Change and he said something that I had never heard before or thought of: When the climate changes we will adapt, or not, other species will adapt, or not, and new species will arise, over the millenia things have changed and our planet adapts. HM. OK.
The thing is, that for a long time I have thought of humans as giant germs or a great cancer slowly but surely killing our earth. We prevent new species from coming in, introduce species which in the end choke out old species, kill living things to prevent them from establishing in the environment, because in the short term other species cannot adapt, we rebuild beaches being washed away naturally by the tides and currents of the ocean, build on flood plains and then wrench our hearts with the awfulness of tragedy when they flood. Build below the existing waterway, destroy water, trees, plants and animals all in the name of our dominance over the earth. A cougar or a bear in our front yard? We kill it, though we are the invader in their territory. We even do it and have always done it to other humans. We want your land, we take it, we slaughter other humans so that we have access to their resources.
And yet we are resistant to culling ourselves. Resistant to stopping ourselves from populating areas that should be left alone, move around the globe establishing ourselves in places where there are already existing populations of humans. As we begin to explore space we are like a metastasized cancer. Spreading out to new planets. What if intelligent life out there one day views us as an invasive species that must be eliminated. What if we are visited by outsiders from the universe, and we decide they too are an invasive species. Hell the whole immigration debate is about preventing an invasive crop of human beings. Right? They take our jobs (zebra mussels kill off other species of lake life), they use our resources (they eat the food other life forms want to eat), they don’t learn our language (they form their own colonies), but too there are good things. What would the US be like without tacos, or salsa dancing, or latin music, or the architecture and art of Central America. What would the Great Lakes be like if the Zebra Mussels had not spent the last several decades cleaning up the HUMANS water pollution?
It is human beings who are invasive. And I have thought for a long time, that the Bible should not have said humans have dominion over the earth, rather that they are care-takers of the earth. But the Bible says love one another, but I suppose, not the invasive ones.
I want to see him, but he is having a bad week and he is miserable. Our brief conversation leaves me with that feeling, the one you have when you have an argument with your very best friend, the feeling of wanting to talk to someone but you cannot talk to the one person that knows you best. The next day is uneventful although always on these days, this new but small fear of being abandoned by the one I love appears. That’s it, now I will never EVER hear from him again, but as I sit in the sun on my front steps, my book on my lap, eyes closed, my phone rings and it is his voice, calmer than yesterday. There is no sullen, no pout, no days of suffering for speaking my mind. Instead there is cheerfulness, acknowledge of the small place that I was right, and a carefree plan to spend the weekend in my company. As I hang up the phone, I am struck by this. I am the sunshine inside out.
We spend the day running errands, taking pleasure in one another’s company, laughing, teasing, playing, working. He climbs the small roof and trims back the sycamore. All I had hoped for was the branch that was brushing the chimney, he climbs up on the high roof and trims the branches up high, and when he climbs down again, I high five him though is face is poised for a kiss, which I also give him. I say, you did so much more than I ever expected. After I have taken all the brush to the curb, and begin to clean up, he pulls my lawnmower from the shed and starts to mow.
We polish off the day with beer, and pool, and then hot tub, we both fall asleep exhausted.
Today after hiking the back edges of our favorite park where I laugh at myself, saying, I am afraid of heights because I know how damn clumsy I am, the likely hood of tripping is so great that the fear hits me in the pit of my stomach. Though last time I felt he was unhappy with my fear, this time he says, it is true that if you trip and fall up here it can be bad it could mean a big fall into a deep crevice. Exactly I say. Exactly. We pass the tree where on our first outing together, which we have both deemed “not a date” because the date came months later, in a snowstorm, we stood and drank hot tea from a thermos, it warmed my laryngeal voice. I remember thinking as I drank it happily in the biting wind, oh no, how well do I know this man? He could have just drugged me. I tell him, well over a year later and he laughs, he is not offended by this revelation his first words to me as we were setting up camp on our first overnight together were, you never know I could be an axe murderer. As we realize that this is the tree on which he hung his backpack, well off the beaten trail, we stop and kiss, and though we are both sweaty, he wraps his arms around me and holds me tight. In a little while we are sitting on a bench, and he has said something which makes me tell him say something nice a game we play when the teasing goes too far. I like how much you love nature and hiking. Yeah. I say. Yeah. That was a good one.
Her words come to me like a crystal arrow. They pierce me, the arrow melts and its water falls from my eyes. In an instant I see both the meaning of our meeting, and the wisdom she has gained from the difficult path she has been on. Her life has gained meaning through the cliff hangers, falling rocks, flooded spots, biting insects, and the demon stones that have hindered her path. I realize that all these things I know have happened in her life, though challenging beyond what even I could imagine, she has played this hand well, somehow. I have a vision of my own cards, falling like autumn leaves to the ground. In my vision I see two aces of spades, an ace of hearts and a two of hearts, but I cannot see the other cards. Perhaps a large numbered club, like an 8 or a 9. Play the hand I am dealt.
And she says, let her fall. Let her fall.
I say I have not been a good mother, I guess.
She says, I wish you had been my mother, because what you do for your child, is more than mine has ever done for me. She says, you did everything you could for her and sometimes more than you could. I think dance lessons, and staying married far longer than I should have to a man I thought was good for her. I know now what a critical error aligning myself to him was, it has destroyed her. It is not the whole reason, but it is big. Huge.
As that arrow strikes me, I see not only my own life, and her life, but now I see the value of letting her hit the wall of her own failure. The value of stepping back, shutting up, and saying no. You made your bed. Now lets see how you manage.
I know I was not dealt the best of cards, but what I know is that I have played the game with integrity.
In an unrelated conversation I mention this, and then another woman says, yes but that is what those in power want us to believe. They behave corruptly, they embezzle money, they cheat, they lie, they steal, and yet they are promoted, given more power. I say but look at how we are we do the right thing and we get nothing. She says, that is how it works. We will not get ahead by doing what is right. And yet we continue to do it.
We have to stand together.
I think of religion, and how once it was progressive, but now it is fundamentalism, it is repressive. Why? To keep the leaders in charge and the masses at odds with one another, thinking that God hates this group or that group, when in fact it is all just a play for control by this other group, by those in power.
It is all just a miserable game of duck duck goose.
The rain is pouring down, the car is laden with goods from the regional market and he sees a store, turn around he tells me with excitement in his voice, and we do. He goes to the door that is locked, but as the proprietor comes to the glass, I stand in the rain, and he says come in, come in Ma, come in Man.
I wander quiet in the store as my man speaks to him, the proprietor’s hair all bound in a knitted cap, wearing a button up khaki workshirt like my grandpa used to wear. But as we wander the store, my eyes fall upon a face surrounded by wings, what is the meaning of this I ask, and that is when I see that he is a prophet, his voice speaks and I believe.
He says that 15% of the world controls all the rest of us, long ago a family gained power and they have kept it all this time, kept it from the rest of us. I am nodding my head, he is correct, they do the devil’s own work he says, and they get us to help them, do you know how? They divide us, he says, and he says, they help and encourage us to divide one another. He says, they teach us Jews against the Muslims, Muslims against the Christians, Christians against the Jews, yet we all worship the same God. They want all this petty fighting among us, it keeps us weak, it keeps them in power. He says, and they teach our men to disrespect our woman, teach our women how to tempt a man away from his family, the woman finds a weakness and takes the man away from that which he loves, it is all about dividing and that woman will destroy the man, she commits an act of evil and she will destroy the whole family. That is divorce, that is destruction. And that is how the powerful want us.
He looks to my man, and he says, do you know how to tell if a woman loves you? She will bow to you and wash your feet, she will do anything to tell you how strong her love is for you. Is it a sign of weakness that she submits to you, that she is willing to give all that she has to you? No he says, it is a sign of love, not weakness. I am standing facing my man, do you hear him I ask. He is laughing. Do you love this woman he asks, do you LOVE this woman, I look at his face his eyes are bright and shining, yes he answers, yes I do. The prophet asks, then why do you give her such a hard time? Do you know why? Because you are afraid, because you are afraid of what she can do to you, she can destroy you, is that not true? Yes he says, it is true. But look at your woman, he says, look at her now, do you see her? She LOVES you. And you have to tell yourself, do not be afraid, anymore. When I saw you two together, I saw love, I saw a love energy coming from you so strong, I knew you were good people. For over one hour we are captured by his words. I see who the prophet is, he tells his own story without shame, without concern for our judgement. He tells us our stories, without being told, like a clairvoyant, like a seer.
Later as we sit together in the rain cleared, clouded night, and he chuckles at me, and shakes his head, I do not try to be cute for his sake, but I see I have him when all I am is myself. And later when I feel my frustration rising, he looks at me, all cute and shining eyes and I see he has me when all he is, is himself.
We speak of the prophet, of the truth of his words. But also I point out the truth he spoke, the war, the hospital, the life, I say the man is clinically insane you know? But man he was right on too. Right on. His words were truth, though his mind is perhaps damaged, beyond repair. Or is he in fact a prophet? We do not know. But some of the words he spoke cut straight through.
Later when we are both sweating with the exertion of our labors in the hot sun, he working on his things, and I working too, the occasional sprinkle of ice cold water as he scrubs the deck, it feels good but I gasp as the drops hit my sun soaked back. We run over and jump in the pool, it is colder than we would like it, but compared to the heat the water feels good. He comes up behind me and throws his arms around me and then picks me up and throws me in the water, giving me time to plug my nose as I go down, I shriek with joy, and his laughter is my echo.
And then sitting side by side, as we watch 12 balloons rise into the sky, I look over at him, and I see my very best friend. I cannot imagine being anywhere else. I have said it once, I will say it all again. Sometimes when God closes a door he opens a window, and sometimes when he closes a window he throws open the double doors and rings the bells. I love you I say to him, with all my heart. Shut up, he says. No, you don’t.
I know you love me too, I say and then I turn away an ear to ear grin on my face.
The prophet has spoken.
Later as I contemplate his words, I find myself asking, how did he differ from the prophets of the ages? I find myself asking, are we serving the mentally illcorrectly? I find myself drawing an Ethiopian Angel, and looking at images of the church carved from the single block of stone. And I find that no matter what, I am caught with inspiration.
It is not until I am sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, around halfway through this nostalgic day that it all strikes me. This view of the lake is not particularly pretty, and it is a quiet moment where I am now waxing reflective and trying to kill time before the next event. But I think of my closest friend from these days at school, who is not here, and I smile as I remember a keg and bonfire by the lake, and her red cup full of apple juice. I have relived this story many times, and more or less every time I find myself with a cup of juice in my hands. But here I am recalling the years at college, and the many people I met, the rituals of pledging, and the new people I have met because of my association with this underground organization.
There have been years where you could be kicked off the campus of this elitist dual set of schools, for being a member of this group, but that is a sad and tragic turn, because there is something truly unique, and deeply connective about it. Even though I am here alone, and throughout the day I see the solitaries standing and watching, me among them, there is a sense of acceptance, at least from me, as to who I am, and an acceptance of this aspect of my life that has been long in coming.
I had stopped by to say hello to the now so much noticeably older weeping mulberry tree that housed my body on many occasions over those years, now its branches are neatly trimmed but then, it was a hiding place from the rain, and maybe at times campus security. I touch the bark of this tree and call it my old friend, a branch catches my hair, and I believe the spirit of the tree recognizes me after all these years. It reveals a face to me in its twisted branches. But I am like this tree, I am twisted and weeping, and yet I see tiny fruits ready to begin forming, and the tree is fully healthy and yet so unique as it stands here among the ginkgos and pines and hardwood trees. It has a character that exudes, a spirit that is alive and well, a strength now that endures, and though it stands alone, I see later that others of my group have photos of this tree on their pages, I am alone but I am not.
In the evening as I drink my seltzer and cranberry juice, and warm my deeply cold hands on two cups of coffee, while so many around me are well in their cups. We gather together, repeating our vow, chanting our songs, and catching up with old friends, and meeting new, I feel a sense of being separate from all of this, and yet connected to it all.
Perhaps there is a reason this group must be underground, as I look at these people, artisans, social workers, teachers, lawyers, people who work in finance, theater, schools, galleries, as substance abuse counselors, and who knows what all, it is filled with outsiders, filled with artists (by definition is this not an outsider?) filled with gays and lesbians, filled with people who try to make a difference in this world, it is good to be connected in our differences though we must hide ourselves from the approval of those in charge. Is this not what I learned in college? To embrace myself, poor, driven and hardworking.
I think of my daughter now, and all I can do is wish this on her, a chance to be a part of something that has carried on now for more than a full generation, that would enrich her life as this has mine. I ache for her, I ache for her loss, and how it has wrenched her life, and if I could I would hurt him with it, to make him feel some portion of the pain he has caused her.
It is lonely though. I realize I have always been an outsider, even in this group, but where I find acceptance is not with whom I spent all that time, but now, in reflection after so many years the acceptance is deep within myself. If I could I would thank him for the pain he caused me, because I have left so much other pain behind. My daughter may not ever get that chance and it wrenches my heart.