Saturday, July 15, 2023

Sometimes, when I wake in the middle of the night, I think about the time we convinced ourselves a mountain lion lived in the field behind our houses. Remember the sticks we found cracked in the grass, the paw prints leading to the creek? 

In the back of my yard, by a hole in the fence, there lives a small white mouse. I spotted it for the first time two weeks ago. I watched as it nibbled on a piece of grass, admiring its coloring, its outsized ears. I considered calling the children over, but they were inside, and I was afraid the mouse wouldn’t be there when I got back. Last month, we killed the rats that lived in our garage. There was a family there. I saw them. Two grown rats, two babies.

I don’t recall how this story ends. You know me—I’ve never been good at endings. 

Construction cranes surround my neighborhood. In every direction I look, new buildings spike the horizon. A neighbor told me she is afraid the city is becoming more dangerous. She said there is violence at the corner of our lives, slipping in through the cracks. I don’t want to believe her, but I suppose I have to. Last week, a woman and her two small children were shot outside my house.

My mother called to say she would have three new lambs soon, but when we visited, there were only two. The third had suffocated early in the morning, its mouth full of mucus. Her husband was remorseful. I figured one more cup of coffee couldn’t hurt, he said. Buzzards circled the field, so low you could see their bellies. 

I cut my daughter’s fingernails yesterday. I saw her thumbs, broad and short, fanning out like a windshield, next to my own long and slender ones. And I wished then that I still knew you. If I had your number, I would have called. I would have asked: do you ever feel, when you look at your own daughter, the slow untethering of a life built within you? Have you ever felt the entire universe contract and expand in one child’s fingertips? 

The dead lamb’s mother now wanders the barn, confused and full of milk. 

I am wracked with grief for days after the shooting, even after I learn that the woman and her children have suffered only superficial wounds. I can’t account for the amount of time I spend crying or the sympathy I receive from friends and colleagues. Why do I feel so lost, so vulnerable? 

The other day I found a man sitting in a camping chair in my side yard. The man was waiting for his cat, who had escaped from his house the night before and taken refuge in a tree in my backyard. The man said he would wait all day. He said he had nothing but time. So I let him have his time. I told him I had work to do, and I went inside. But I didn’t work. Instead, I spent the afternoon staring out the window by my desk. From there, I could see the tree the cat was waiting in. But the cat itself was hidden.

No one believed us about the mountain lion. And there were times I didn’t believe it, either. But in the end, it didn’t matter. Because, still, I told the stories with fervor. And, still, I felt the fear that hugged my body when I walked outside.

Do you know what I think about now, when I think about loss? I think about irrelevance. I think about numbness. I think about how one day there will be no one left to say what it was like to be a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I think about how, when it’s all over, even the archetypes won’t exist. 

So, no, I don’t like endings, and I expect to forget this one, too. But here is what I will remember—that is, until there are no memories left: you and I, waiting by your kitchen window, trying to catch the flicker of a tail in the tall grass.

Saturday, July 15, 2023