I stop by his work, have you been outside yet, I ask as he kisses me, in front of everyone. It is really gorgeous we both say at the same time. I want to walk, I tell him. I do too, he says. I mean I really want to walk, no getting home and changing your mind, I say. And then, I will just meet you there. What do you mean? he asks. The day is just too beautiful to NOT go. But then as it turns out he beats me home, because he left work early so I wouldn’t walk without him. I text him earlier in the day, you have to make sure I know you love me, I say, you cannot forget. As we walk up the long dark hill surrounded by buckthorn, he reaches out and pats my shoulder, I am glad we are here together, he says. Me too I say, pleased. At the crest of hill the golden sunshine is lovely, I look and see the valley from three sides, what a view. The crows are here, they have filled every tree and dot the gravel field down below. They sing the background to the whole evening, cawing and doing that odd gurgling sound that crows make, as we wander. We continue on, and find the field strew with shotgun shells, porcelain chunks, old tires. The sun is setting, and the moon is rising, it is soft white spot on the bright blue sky. The ground is wet and dark and the water droplets shine silver on the dark green blades of grass. The mud is soft and there are big deer tracks in it, and now mine on top, we stop as we hear a whuffing sound of a deer in the buckthorn brush beside us, we stop to look at a shrub, do you know what that is, he asks, willow I say definitively. Yup, he says. There are tall reeds and we walk through them, and then duck under an over grown arch of buckthorn as we make our way back to the car, hunkering down to avoid the long dark and close underbrush, stopping to mark a meeting place should things go awry in the zombie apocalypse. You are a goofball I tell him. Shush he says. That was an awesome walk he says. Thanks for going with me I say.
I had a bunch of books that I needed to get rid of. I know, my librarian friends, and bibliophiles will gasp. But I had to. I put many of my favorite books in storage in my daughter’s attic, and brought all my crafting books, and the various religious books, a Bible, the Dhammapada, Siddhartha, my Loren Eisely collection, Annie Dillard, stayed with me, there were however a handful of books I didn’t want for various reasons. One a book of Contemporary Art with an absolutely vile, pornographic cover painting by Eric Fischl, of a naked woman, lying on a bed with her legs spread wide, while a teenage boy looked on. When I bought the book it was wrapped in plastic and there was a paper covering the well executed painting. But I couldn’t even pick it up to look at it. It was just too distasteful to me. There are a number of used bookstores in this city but my favorite by far is called Books and Memories. They buy, sell and trade used books.
Maybe I have told this story on this blog before, if I have I am sorry for repeating myself. One winter I went into this bookstore, which was once owned by an older couple, one of whom was a teacher. The place was just overflowing with books, almost like a hoarders bookstore. There were stacks of books piled all over the store, which, for all intents and purposes covers a full store frontage area a half a block long, one row house wall knocked down to make a passageway to the next row house. It was close to Christmas, and I was looking sort of half assedly for a book by Anthony Bourdain, any book would do, but I was truly not committed to putting money on the table. The store was brutally hot, and I was sweltering in my down jacket. My daughter and I made our way down to the dank dungeon of a basement where the cooking books were, but I grew impatient with the disaster, the musty smell, the overwhelming heat and quickly returned upstairs, whereon the patron asked had I found the books. I said no but that is okay. He told me to wait, urgently, insistently, and so I stood there for several long minutes sweat pouring from my brow, and that sticky ick feeling of being too hot of it being dark and having never been home after a long day of work, dinner a diet cola and an oatmeal cookie weighing heavy in the stomach. He came up, checked on everyone and told me again to wait, no no I insisted, please it is okay. He more forceful than I telling me to remain exactly where I was standing. We went back and forth like this for a half dozen rounds before he scampered off to the dungeon. The moment his back was too us and his body and gone around the corner that had at least 30 books stacked high all around it, I reached out with my witches claw hand and grabbed my daughter garbed in a similar puffy coat, hers turned to the reverse side so we did not quite match. Lets get out of here, I hissed to her, and like minded the two of us made a made dash out into the street.
The streets were wet and clogged with salted slush and gritty water, the fine combination of salt and sand that is sprinkled on our hilly winter pavement. And as soon as we had emerged onto it rushing to get into our car, my daughter cried out, oh my god I am so glad we left, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. And as we quickly jumped into the car, I uttered I feel like I stole something, with that mad dash of a getaway. And at the same time we both said, you know we can NEVER go in that store again. It was not long after that some younger hipper, tattooed artsy types bought and refurbished the place, getting rid of many of the ugly and dangerous teetering piles of books. Thank God, because we both go there regularly to look for classics, and art books, and whatever other treasures we can find.
There is this feeling for me whenever I am in this store, a feeling that if I look right, there is a book that will perfectly fill the void inside of me, a book that will take all my angst and troubled mindedness and ease the furrow in my brow. That suddenly some extraordinary book will leap in front of my eyes and I will emerge from the store, a changed person, because this book is in my hand. I think it is a spell that someone has cast on the store, it is so profound.
I think though that it is the ordinariness of life that we should seek, not the extraordinary. The stories of television, of movies, of books are all of extraordinary moments, biographies of extraordinary people, philosophies of extraordinary thinkers, religions and politics of extraordinary leaders. But you and I, we are so ordinary are we not? There is nothing about my life that warrants the thought of extraordinary. I am not an extraordinary writer, artist, mother, teacher, lover, woman, daughter, sister. I am not special, I am simply myself.
I carry out my small purple stool, avoiding the leftoever damp drenching downpour of the morning, slate still dotted with puddles, I place it where the warm autumn sun will shine on me, but I face out onto the lawn with the thought of wondering what creature will appear before my eyes. I note a dozen or more lady bugs flying around the shed, two dozen box elder beetles like a scene from the Amityville Horror on the window frame and then not two feet from my face a pair of chickadees brave the feeder. I call to them, and they continue to bravely fly onto the feeder, uncertain of my only good intentions. See this moment is not at all extraordinary. It is just another autumn day. I am just another ordinary observer.
The leaves are changing and they are scattered on the damp dark path. Two years ago this way was impassable due to high water, it is now so dry that I begin to take a path which doesn’t actually exist and have to climb three feet to get to the real path. The dog is pulling and puffing to sniffing everything he possibly can. The geese are paddling towards me as I cheep like a baby bird at them. They sit, guards on the outside, while the dog patiently waits to finish my nonsense. I stop to chat with a guy who is fishing from the low shores, what kind of bait, what kind of fish, are they biting? The path is challenging, the whole reason I took it, I wanted a brief but difficult walk. I feel a deep sense of quiet, breathing in the smell of the leaves, the wet earth, the distinctive smell of black walnut and the somewhat fetid edges of the pond.
Were a moth to fall in the water, would I not reach in to try and save it. Holding the edges of its wings firmly as I take it to a dry place in the sun. Were it a mosquito, a fly, a bee, a cockroach, would I try to save it? I suppose the answer is no. But are not all of their lives equally important? The bee would surely sting me, the mosquito could kill me, or someone else in this EEE infested, and West Nile Virus infested region. The fly performs its important function in eating shit, and garbage and pollinating some flowers. The cockroach?
The sun is shining all golden, like a memory of good years on the tops of the trees, and they are reflected in the crystalline glassy water. I take the long hard trek up the stairs, feeling the movement of my leg muscles as I do so. I love this muscle ticking feeling when I stop to rest.
I am hot and sweaty and the dog is panting hard in the back seat. If I were drowning in the water, would you try to save me? If I were fat, or ugly, or stupid, or a person you took pleasure in harming, or a person you would rather not speak too? Would I try to sting you? Am I a shit eater? Would I die anyway? Am I a cockroach?
I am quiet as I stand looking out the window onto the field, the cafeteria tables are filthy and I hate this place, but I watch in a deep contemplative state as the seagulls fly. A half hour later I step into the warm drizzly grey autumn afternoon, I feel so blessed today. So very blessed. Even this too is a new thing, a gift.
Here is what I have been holding on to all summer, a thing that has made it so I cannot write. How can I write what is in me, when what is in me is for me, not to be revealed. Mostly because I am secretly superstitious.
I decided last April that I was sick of being house poor. We bought this house, my ex husband and I and promptly after moving in he lost his job. I never really did want to buy a house, I would have been content to rent from my brother for years. And if I had wanted to buy a house it would have been in the country, not the city. But we bought it, and it was a good house, but trying to support three people on one income was just so difficult. I was going broke, and I literally was in knots worrying that something big would break, because it would break me.
I refinanced when he moved out. Really the house was mine, he barely worked the whole time we owned it, making a pittance that barely covered anything, much less his daily Starbucks habit and his expensive taste in luncheons, and running shoes, and rock climbing equipment, and eating out and going to the movies when I was waitressing on top of teaching. And he certainly did no work at all, not traditional men’s work, not traditional women’s work, not working as a provider.
When I made the decision to sell, I literally had no idea where I would go to live. I just knew the time was right, that I had to get out.
And this summer the work began on the very last day of school. The house looked gorgeous by the time I was done. Paid laborers, plumbers, roofers, drywall contractors (grr), and me. I lugged ladders, I climbed on roofs, the pirate and I trimmed trees, I painted, I cleaned, I threw things away, I rearranged furniture, I replaced windows. And a month later the house was on the market, two weeks after that the house was sold. Today was the closing.
The offer came on the day my ex husband came to this country, the same day I got the final divorce papers. I thought oddly enough that the closing would be on the anniversary of him leaving, or our anniversary, a kind of message from the universe, but instead it was today, my birthday, a gift to me. And what a gift. My God what a gift, the speed at which it sold. My hard work rewarded.
And now I am living with the pirate. More or less rent free.
I am thinking all of this as I drive from one school to the next. I am thinking this all day, as I check my phone for the final word from my lawyer.
When it comes later I am standing in the woods of the pirates country property, listening to the chickadees, looking at the red leaves against the twisted stems of the buckthorn bushes, the grey sky threatening to rain, our hard work clearing brush with our machetes earlier this summer is evident. I am quiet. Wondering is that a beech tree or aspen, it’s a stand of aspen I think, and then the buzz of my phone. I feel as though I have been washed clean by a wave. The quiet washes over me, the easing of the weight of it, the wobbly with relief, of peace from this long burden of my soul.