Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

*photo credit, Ms. Caty Gordon

Beavers construct their refuges overnight. Their dens are islands with hidden underwater entrances. They choose a new watery home and set to work and, in the morning, that creek or rill is stayed by their blockades of twigs and bark and moss and mud.

They are adaptable. And, in return, the river adapts with them. They make wetlands. They build ecosystems. They defend and lose and build again, but once they find a dam destroyed, their hearts depart. They know that what is lost may never be replaced. They move to other rills and creeks and change new currents, make new homes.

Is that what I have done here? In this little bungalow, on this side street, in this slice of unfamiliar state, and with this little life?

Even in the February freeze, some foliage survives: the evergreens, the patch of lawn. Winter persists, but still the soil thaws to…

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iambic pace

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

woods

We came back and it was winter.

Among the shrubs and evergreens, elms and oaks stand bare. The jungle out our window thins. In place of deep shade and tall green, there is a wide blank whiteness, veined with branches. In the woods, frost hardens things. It crunches underfoot, squishing dead leaves into still unfrozen mud. The dog roots around for deer droppings, discarded treats, and I stare through the flock of trees with leaves that seem to have been dipped in gold. They glint dully in the diffuse day.

This is the first new year without my mother in it—fifteen years into a century almost absolutely doomed. But it is a new year all the same, and it is cold and pure as Januaries ought to be. We see our breath, the dog’s breath, and the breath of engines making heat. We feel the bite of fresh-lunged wind.

It…

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it’s beginning to

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

You bring a plain pine tree into your house and it is every fight your parents ever had about its height or straightness, the correct number of lights, or where the bare patch best be rotated.  It’s the so-called “marriage saver” tree stand. It’s every pair of sweatpants she wore every year we decorated trees. And every shade of hair. And every time we played Bing Crosby albums while we did it. It is sickly thick egg nog with clumps of powdered nutmeg. It’s your father in a Santa suit with sleigh bells in the drive.

At very least, that’s how it smells.

It’s also “do you think it’s crooked?” and “stand back there and pass the string around to me,” and “make sure you hang that one to catch the light; it has to catch the light,” and “you already hung too many [red/green/gold] ones there.” My mother was…

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Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

booboo

Sickness has come into our house.

At first it was a small affair: The dog’s recurrent demodectic mange. A small infected patch. And then the patch began to swallow her and she was overrun with sores and scabs.  Our house smelled of decay and desperation. Then the dread set in.

But our girl fights her sinister infection. She takes her pills in great fistfuls of yogurt. She bears her cone, her frequent medicated front-yard baths, the couch embargo, weekly shots—without complaint. Her vet has given up the scary bad news voice. We’re spared.

Dread, however, is my frequent visitor.

I’m told this is a normal stage of grief, the worry. I fear every monster lurking in the shadows: infections, fast-moving vehicles, myself. Most mornings I must remind the latter that nothing terrible has happened yet that day. That nothing will. That I, and B, and those we love are well enough—and Magnolia gets better steadily…

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the question of self-pity

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

I went back to New York and several things occurred.

  1. I broke down sobbing in the terminal. (Because it was hers, the gateway to her new sunburned life, and the last time I went through it was to fly there to confront her death). The loudspeakers were blaring ABBA.
  2. It didn’t feel like coming home. Midtown was too fast, too grey, too loud and, though I matched its pace, I was a stranger there. Perhaps I always was. Perhaps therein lies the city’s charm. We wander among aliens who look (vaguely) like us, like planets who will never orbit close enough to touch. I miss my friends with holy vehemence, but I have wholly acclimated to this other, dappled place. There is that disconnect, that obstacle of miles between (which we will traverse gladly, all too often); I have become a visitor.
  3. New York will always be the city that I lived in when she died, and I am…

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all her empire’s falling down

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

trail

Autumn here is strange, and about as unseasonable as my grief. The urge to wrap myself in wool is strong. As is the urge for hot broth and baking pans and roasted roots. The weather simply won’t cooperate. It’s warm.

Not accustomed to the thirty-degree temperature differential, dawn to dusk, I bundled up last week, thinking: Now. Here. This. But I was nearly laughed back north to New York City (here, you call the place by its full name) as my boss informed my coworker, “This child is not ready for the south.” And there I was, stifling in my layers as the day veered tropical.

Yesterday was Sunday, chill and grey and damp; today we’re back to warm again. The trees are thinning, very slowly. Green leaves turn to yellow one by one, and linger before falling. They are not prepared for hibernation. Meanwhile, I’ve gone prematurely numb.

Evenings in…

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turn and face the strange

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

It doesn’t actually get any better. But you get used to bearing it.

Most days, you won’t believe she’s dead.

A birthday comes and goes and though you celebrate, it passes with a sinking feeling: maybe you forgot to tell the guest of honor where to meet for dinner. Maybe she was waylaid at the airport. Or your card was late and she is seething somewhere. Or the flowers arrived wilted. You are an awful daughter.

You’ll bump your head—on hatchbacks, pots and pans, or doors—and that will be the thing that roots you to your earth of pain. Not daily life. Perhaps the Buddhists have it. This is all illusion: work and play and clothes and cars and bills and gasoline. Not illusion: goose eggs, death, and withheld tears.

What’s real is what you can’t accept. Despite the fact that her things are now interspersed with your things. Her nightie is folded in…

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the best medicine for grief

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

Magnolia

Is a hundred-and-one-pound rescue dog: half Mastiff, half Shepherd, and no small amount of wooly mammoth.

Here I am in this new tiny house, with this new massive dog, getting up at dawn to write before I drive my mother’s bucket of a car to my new job, where I sit tethered to a desk from 9 to 5. This new world is strange and pretty, with wild packs of thug mosquitoes, mutant spiders, heat—heat that in heft and force could blind a man and fell him—and every kind of tree: scrubby, piney, stately, savage, towering, or choked by vines. These things require adjustment. But there are also bounties here, pleasures to which the soul adapts quite easily. The quiet. The watercolor cotton sky. The jackpot rattle of the cicadas. Sweet corn and farm-warmed peaches. The unsullied scent of rain.

I want to call my mother and tell her she was right. But, awfully, in this singular…

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and so it goes

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

Mum's stone, new home

Of all the things that I expected to be difficult (moving here), losing my mother was never even in the realm of my most terrible imagination. But it has become the only thing. Now there are vampires sucking at my words and rendering them bloodless. Suddenly. Tragically. Impossibly. I need every adverb in the book. I need to bend the language until it howls, then breaks. Or else I will resort to saying all the dumb things that now feel like the only things to say. It really does feel like a hole in your heart.

But then it isn’t real. There are arrangements to be made, and boxes to be packed. Loaded. Unloaded. Unpacked. And little moments managing to be beautiful in spite of this. Little jokes she might have made. Her memory, the act of her on a planet which is now unreal and immeasurable—both too big and too…

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Independence Day

Originally posted on Southern Exposure:

empire state, fourth of july

9 pm July 4th, 2014 found me on the couch (in front of yet another episode of Call the Midwife), in sweatpants (or summer equivalent), with mac n’ cheese and one of those single-woman half bottles of Cavit pinot grigio.  I was not ashamed. Just home from schlepping syrupy mojitos to FIFA fans for nine hours straight, I decided not to go to Brooklyn, where friends were gathering to watch the fireworks; not to put on patriotic eyeshadow (even if I owned such frippery, which I do not); not to go anywhere at all. Instead I opened up the balcony and, once the crackleboom of the Macy’s display got going, watched with passive admiration at its reflection in the windows of a nearby building. It wasn’t lonely and it wasn’t lame. By the time I’d made myself (and polished off) a hot fudge sundae (and the modest glug of wine), I experienced my one brief…

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