I woke up at 7:30 Saturday morning rested, refreshed and strangely eager to clean out the area under my bed. Which is exactly what I did. None of this is likely to occur again for (and this is a conservative estimate) eight to 10 years. Come to think of it, this was such a big deal that blogging about this about it is probably not sufficient documentation. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that this is why web video exists, and I feel awful that I didn’t capture the moment and share it with the Youtubes, or at least favor you, my nonexistent audience, with a short photo essay. Not one crummy image.
But I also tell you this because of this:
At the beginning of Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams writes, “I have been in retreat. This is my return.”
And I haven’t exactly been in retreat. This is not precisely a return. Maybe it’s more like this, though this feels a little too easy: in the fall of 2008 I made sure to plant tulips, and daffodils and irises.
I made sure to plant them in the front lawn. I did it because when my mother was little, she and a neighbor dug up all of my great-grandmother’s irises and replanted them in the front yard, because they were so beautiful: they moved the flowers, she said, for all the world to see. She was roundly punished but vowed to plant her irises and bulbs where the world could see them. I thought I should too.
I did it because I’d not so many weeks previous returned her to the earth, because digging in heat-hardened dirt was hard enough to distract me but also remind me of her, in one of the only ways that didn’t hurt.
I did it because she was always trying to get me to garden with her and because I never did.
And even if she hadn’t loved them, I would have planted bulbs because I knew that winter was coming. And the only way to know that winter was coming and not dissolve into tears mid-meeting at the office was to know that spring was coming too. And to know that spring would be slightly more beautiful this year because of something I had done. Something she would have been proud of.
That is too easy. When spring did come, I was a goddamn wreck. Winter in Portland equals resignation; spring here equals the unloosing of everything.
Sure, we get all chipper here and take our shirts off at the slightest suggestion, and the people who own convertibles drive with the tops down, even if it’s 50 degrees out.
But we (read: I) also turn into giant sobbing weeping messes at the slightest suggestion. Fortunately (I guess?), by last spring I had already lost my job and I didn’t have to worry that I’d start crying in the middle of a meeting or an important phone call. You can only convince your boss so far that you’re so passionate about enterprise software it makes you choke up.
I tell you this for two reasons. First, everybody told me that after the first year, it gets easier. This is usually highly qualified but stated emphatically nonetheless.
This might be true, but I don’t really remember the first year all that well. I spent most of it crying, behaving badly in order to distract myself from crying, or asleep – and generally marking time until the one-year mark ran up.
It’s a year and a half now. Not easier now, or harder; everything just has a different weight. Regaining sensation beats the hell out of living without it, but that includes a renewed capacity for pain: My goddamn daffodils bloomed last week. Mid-February. It’s an aberration that would thrill nobody more than my mother. It’s an aberration that hurts doubly because it’s so likely to be rapidly destroyed by an early-March frost.
So this second spring is both better and worse than last, and for the same reason: I have my brain back.
This brain wants to sift through debris (both metaphorical and not) and chuck the nasty stuff. Organize what it needs.. Put a few things out there in the world.
Maybe this is a return. I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll get around to posting some poop jokes or something. Anyway, welcome.