- that I have packed something that is crucial to us getting through the next four weeks, something crucial enough that it will result in wasting money and upsetting people whose jobs I have made more difficult out of my own airheadedness
- that our internet will not get connected in a timely fashion in the new house
- that I have spent too much money
- that I will spend too much money
- that I have written the wrong postal code on the Christmas cards I sent out with the new address
- that there is a glaring, expensive repair that will need to be made on the new house within the first year
- that the No Good Very Bad Ottawa Roofer will thrive in his business by taking advantage of others
- that I will go stir-crazy on the train trip from Toronto to Winnipeg and start bothering strangers and/or begging them to play Train Yahtzee (the rules of which I will invent [guess where])
- that I will get sick (again) sometime in the next four weeks because tis the season
- that I will get sick of being so near my in-laws
- that my in-laws will get sick of being so near to me
- that after six months of lonely solo living, having to go through living-together rough spots all over again will result in sniping and eyerolling and bad feelings between Myron and me
- that a 20-cm dumping of snow will happen on the day the movers arrive
- that my ambitious hopes for the year will be forgotten by March
- that I am going to break something impossibly old in the new house
- that I will hate my book when I go back into this revision
- that I will really miss my refrigerator even more than I think I will, and also, that this says something so materialistic and tacky about me that I should be ashamed of committing it to the internet (this worry tempered by Allison’s love of her own fridge)
For a while now I’ve been wanting to do a year’s worth of lists a la hula seventy. Let’s see how long I can keep this up.
Years ago, years and years, long enough that I’m over it in lots of ways, we buried my brother on a December 31. At the same time, there are lots of ways that I’m not over it. I learned the difference between being gouged by pain and being beheaded by it. I am gouged by the fact that I could not call my mother yesterday and sing her birthday song or tell her that prime number birthdays are special ones, but my head is still here and she is not and I know the difference.
This is what you’re supposed to do after a loss. You differentiate. Eventually it becomes a story you tell from time to time, and a frame of reference, and some days it is the thing that takes you down. When you go a long time without being taken down, that’s something to celebrate.
This year, I have a tab open in my browser that counts down the days until Myron comes back, with his bag full of sanity and his way of looking at me that silently says how deeply I am seen. There is another countdown that numbers the days until I walk into our new house and let it wrap itself around me. In the meantime, I dodge the pile of boxes in my kitchen and uncork prosecco and allow the love of my friends to wrap itself around me. There was a time when this would suffocate me, but at this moment, it just feels warm.
I will be happy to see the end of 2012. I will be happy to have this manufactured fresh start dictated to me by the calendar and the rotation of the earth. I will be happy as I laugh loudly enough to hear my own echo off these walls, which are only mine for a handful more days. I will be happy when plans large and small come to fruition in this new year. And maybe this is the closest I come to prayer, to say that I will be happy and that I wish happiness for you in everything the year brings you. We’ve earned this one.
It’s awkward to write after long pauses, especially to write something with substance. You’d think I would know this by now. Whenever I tried to write, I realized that the results always read like complaints and I deleted draft after draft. A part of me had chalked up the whole year to badness and disappointment, and I didn’t want to ruminate on things I was powerless to change. (Hence no Reverb or Reverbish efforts this year.) There is no denying the sadness of being apart from Myron for so many months, or the frustration of contractors who miss deadlines without calling, or the rigmarole of selling a house, a process which has absolutely no good parts except for the fact that eventually you get to buy a new one.
I simmered in unpleasant feelings. Selling your house is inviting strangers to critique every bit of it, every corner, weighing your color choices and housekeeping skills and the contents of your refrigerator. As much as I tried to divorce my sense of Home from the building itself, I mostly failed at this and compensated with freakouts, insomnia, oversleeping, ABC Afterschool Specials on YouTube, and popcorn with pimentón de la vera. My lack of control amplified everything that was less than perfect with stereophonic self-blame. When the house sold and I told myself I could let go of the breath I’d been holding since May, it turned out that my body was too used to not breathing and had evolved past it. To a large extent, I am still tense at every joint, barely sleeping, unable to calm down.
I am aware of the problem of scale here. I know that these are not major problems and that people face worse all the time. To that I say three things: First, of course I know that. Second, no one ever knows the whole story. Third, twice now my eyelid has torn off a chunk of my cornea when I woke up in the morning. This is a thing that happens now. I have created my own ecosystem of stress and I need my own Darwin to catalog it all.
In a few short weeks Myron will be back here, the movers will load everything into trucks, and we’ll be off. Soon after I’ll be unpacking boxes in the new house, which just passed its hundredth birthday. I will rediscover all the things I put away in the summer back when Gullible Me thought this would be over with long ago.
I hope for the best. I do. The long, rich autumn this year was a blessing. When the snow finally came I almost didn’t even mind. And I managed to shoot a picture I’ve wanted to shoot for years, ever since I noticed that snowflakes really do look like this if you catch them in the right conditions. They vanish in seconds. At least for me, ephemeral things teach lessons that lasting things can’t.
The Garlic Corner does not bother with one of the endemic names local shawarma joints use—Shawarma King, Shawarma Prince, Shawarma Palace. We are here for the garlic and the chicken and pita are just vehicles to get it into our mouths. On the chair beside him is Myron’s weekend bag. From here, we walk a few blocks to Rideau, through the mall and to the bridge, where we split up. He stands four lanes away from me, in black leather amid a rainbow of nylon coats. He waves sometimes. Mostly we watch each other. It’s unseasonably pleasant; no gloves, no scarves. The warm wind blows my hair into tangles and his bus comes before mine. It’s over.
When my own bus comes I get a prized empty seat near the front. Two stops later, a man in his fifties gets on and sits with the young woman behind me. He asks her about her coursework, her major, says that he’s “workin’ casual” for Canada Post but did his degree in geography. She has that kind of voice that repels inflection but she keeps going with the conversation, and the two of them prattle through every lurching stop of the bus until I can’t bear it any longer. I head to the back of the bus, find an empty seat, and lean my head against the cool window. Everyone back here is silent, earphones in, head bent down to device, eyes closed. I am with my people. I watch the clock. By now he has his boarding pass. By now he is through security. By now he is sitting in a chair attached to four other chairs and is opening the copy of Cloud Atlas that bewitched me in New Mexico.
I get off the bus in front of the antique store and am almost knocked over by the wind. I walk into it in the dark along the highway. I detect a drop of rain, another, another. No wind this strong should be truly dry; exertion like this calls for sweat. I lean forward with each step but the wind corrects my posture. I try to remember the names of winds I know: mistral, simoom, sirocco, sundowner. The skies open and the rain comes down and I think of all the things we did today that put me where I am right now instead of dry at home fifteen minutes earlier. And I think about what it is to be jean-soaked and coat-soaked in the middle of a warm November instead of shin-deep in snow, and I think like an English major about cloudbursts and baptisms and timing and my empty house. Maybe I can write again, turn this into something. And look! I did.
When my littlest brother was in nursery school, he came home with this book about death called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. I read it. Freddie rustles in the breezes and offers shade for picnicking old people and then October comes with the cold and wind, and everyone changes color. A kindly leaf tells Freddie that everybody dies, and at the end, even though Freddie said he was absolutely not going to die, wheeeeeeee Freddie falls and it’s as orgasmic as that saying about skidding into your grave at full throttle shouting What a Ride!
My tree has gone Freddie, all yellow and autumn-smelling and on its way to its annual nakedness. It’s a big tree, lots of leaves. Lots of raking. Next year I may not even have a tree at all to clean up after. The little girl in me who learned wrong lessons about death too early does not like autumn or falling leaves or anything that speaks of endings. The rest of me tries to talk some sense into that little girl and to be the kindly leaf. Life is change. You’re alive, still. You change, and everything changes around you. You are not the center of the storm. You are made of it and every time you breathe you stir things up some more.
I have been quiet in a lot of ways since spring, mostly because to talk of the minutiae of this life (the packing, the loneliness, the damn shoulder) feels one-note to me, and though I fail a lot, I try not to be one-note. I myself am sick of what I have to say. I wish, instead of bagging up all these leaves in environmentally sound paper leaf bags for the city to haul away, I could be piling their dry husks into an old metal barrel and tickety-boom setting them on fire. This is what I need right now, a good hot blaze instead of a slow decay.
The good news: I swear I smell it, just a hint. Mixed in with the clean chill of the air and the musty fallen leaves, overpowering the parade of pumpkin-spiced this and pumpkin-spiced that, and in concert with geese flying south: sulfur and phosphorus, a freshly struck match. Maybe it’s some kind of anticipatory hallucination, maybe it’s hope or a memory, and maybe it’s someone down the street with more balls than I have. It gives me nerve. It smells better than I can tell you.