He’s been pulling her strings. Choreographing her life. While she’s been waiting for just this right moment to efficiently snip away his upper hand, with metaphorical scissors-blades sharp from random practice cuts numbering in the thousands. His role as puppet master falls to pieces. Crashes upon his stage in a bisected ruin of body parts and strands of cotton. She, on the other hand, free from wooden articulation, finds her voice, her dance. And as he tries in vain to tie loose ends into knots of control, he doesn’t even notice that his unwilling marionette has fled the building.
Sip by sip.
Descending ice cube stairs.
To the bottom of umbrella’d rum and coconut and pineapple.
And closer to home.
Closer to paradise.
When I remember them, those whose paths crossed mine, I remember their shoulders.
How sloping, sagging flesh and blood felt beneath my grip, as my arms held on as tightly as I could, like I was trying to keep the life underneath the bone and skin from falling apart.
Sometimes broad, deceptively sturdy.
Other times narrow, blades sharp under an inadequate armor.
Carrying the weight of the world, and failing.
And now-you’re out there.
Angry. Afraid. Misunderstood.
Needing someone to hold you together.
And I only wish I could.
I can only imagine what went through her mind when she found out. Or dare myself to wonder whether she was mercifully by herself, where her sorrow could consume her privately, or if, in the company of others, she simply had to assume a brave face and carry on as best she could.
And I’ll never know the exact color of his eyes. But as a woman so possessed myself, I am certain, that in her soul, when she remembered those eyes, how they swallowed her up, she would have followed him down into those drowning depths, in a heartbeat.
Once, I aspired to her cold-as-ice persona. Tactility restrained, in molded fever-denying fiberglass. The antithesis of my own unwanted touch-hungry skin. Desperately, undeniably longing for warm.
But then I realized, she’d never had the pleasure, either. Of touch. Or warmth.
So I assure her-heat is ok. Rub my hand down the length of her artificial arm.
And she comes to life.
Just like I did.
Her size 11 oxfords were never going to swap places with my size 8 peep toes. Then again, it didn’t really matter. She wasn’t one to wear high heels and I wasn’t one to wear sensible. And just as I knew that Cab Calloway and Lawrence Welk would never be singing duets, I was also fairly certain that my nights spent dancing at the Star Dust were never going to rub elbows with her mornings spent at Loraine’s house, drinking coffee and eating cake.
But we could agree on hyacinths.
Her garden was wild with them-their little beaded heads adding cheerful dots of purple, blooming a bridge between winter and spring.
How I miss my grandmother.
Two stormy nights, I sailed.
Casting my net into the water, catching words,
To soothe a sea-vast ache.
On the third, my wounded heart was mended-
Stitched with stars.
Bathed in moon balm.
Her “wingspan” is roughly 5 feet. This, she knows, because she once wrapped her arms around the maple tree in her front yard (spiders and ants be damned), her left-hand fingertips barely kissing the finger tips of her right hand-and then, afterwards, stringing her 60” plastic tape-measure around the girth of moss covered trunk, the two metal-bound ends of ribbon-like lime green plastic barely kissing as well.
At the time, she’d hugged that tree jealously. Envying the way it was rooted with such certainty to the ground, when she herself had nothing so without question with which to ground herself-and wingspan didn’t even enter into the equation.
But that was before she discovered the albatross. Soaring on wings measuring 11 feet, tip to tip. Soaring for years without ever seeing land. Soaring great distances like it was nothing.
She’d never before viewed the short flight of the helicoptering maple samara as a limitation. Never thought that being grounded might be an albatross of a different feather.
And never before had she admitted to herself that five feet of wingspan wasn’t going to work any more.
So many times I rationalized her away-the transparent swish of hooped black silk taffeta, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye nothing more than a trick of light and shadow. Or muted footsteps and gently closing doors the mere settling of this ancient sagging Greek Revival. Her home, a long time ago. Now mine.
And so many times I endeavored to convince myself that if indeed she really did exist, she was nothing more than a fanciful figment of my own feracious mind- conjured from a tragic chapter in the history of those who once inhabited this house; that of a young Confederate widow who died of a broken heart after learning that her sweetheart had perished in the Battle of Bull Run.
So many times I refused to believe in her…yet I need to believe in her now.
Only this morning, I still had you. Or at least, in the reality of my world, I believed you to be a part of it. The telegram, delivered just after lunch by a stiff young corporal in olive drab, fluttered to the floor after shattering that world.
Killed in action…Guadalcanal…October 13th, 1942…
Nearly two weeks ago! (Only yesterday I was shopping for your Christmas present-warm wool socks and a tin of your favorite peanut brittle.)
I am in shock. Flooded by a sense of aloneness as foreign to me as the sand on which you died, my dearest.
Imagining her gazing at the night sky almost a century ago-looking toward the heavens from the depths of her grief, I find comfort from the depths of my own. Searching for you among the stars, I sense her beside me. Shoulder to shoulder, we huddle together-knowing that in our sorrow, we are not alone.
Sometimes, life will make us go there.
In my gut I knew she was dying. Even before I searched the internet for how to tell when a dog is going to die, I knew.
I can’t say that I wasn’t sad. I was. Extremely so. But it’s such an area of saturated blankness, that I found myself to be more of a clinical observer.
Loss of appetite.
While she did not seem to be suffering, still, I confess I just wanted her to get it over with already. Only she kept lingering. On day two, it was decided that she really should go to the vet. As she was carried away, I kissed her on the nose, tears sliding down my own, and I tried in those last moments, to tell her all I’d ever wanted her to know about what she had meant to me.
And then, afterwards, after she was gone, as it came out that the option had been given to take measures to save her life, ragged guilt began to seep into every crack in my belief that we had done the right thing.
Last Monday, my dear friend Nina and her daughter Britainey were visiting. And some how the subject of Willow came up, and I found myself confessing that for months now I’ve been plagued with the anguish that I betrayed a creature who trusted me implicitly.
And Nina simply told me to stop.
The end result would have been the same.
Yes, sometimes life will make us go there. And it will hurt. But there’s something to feeling the depths of emotion so intensely. Hopefully it will make us braver and stronger in the face of what lies ahead.