— Rascal Flats
This morning one candle burns in my writing corner. I’m playing lyrical, classical music: the Faure Requiem: stunning, comforting. My dog laments in her crate; at this hour– the middle of the night, early morning for me, she thinks we should go out into pre-daybreak cold for a game with the ball.
Dream: I was trying to saddle a chestnut stallion, who wouldn’t stand still to be mounted. Dream: I think I was a man, setting off on a journey; so many things to attend to, putting right the heavy curtains in a deserted house, securing provisions at the back of the saddle, checking and rechecking.
I see this dream by the light of my OCD and obsession with horses, and an old notion that men can move, leave, take wing and women are trapped, perhaps, because I struggle with these things.
For better or for worse, after a few rough days doing painful archaeology– as noted in my previous post– I have framed a new collection of poems after twenty-five years of keeping them in a box, on various hard drives, disks. Currently, I’m calling it At Dusk the House Fills With Water; few of these poems directly address moving on, but as I read them, I see and feel emotional and spiritual growth– a separation between now and then, me and the events they chronicle. This begs the question, perhaps several questions: what is moving on, anyway?
In 1990 when I met the person I so often refer to as my companion, we threw our lot in together fast. After weeks of politeness between us, establishing common interests, his mowing of my lawn and repairing of things around the small trailer house I was renting– and as a thunderstorm rolled in– I took his hand and led him back to my bedroom.
What was I thinking? I took off his Texas straw hat that he wore working with the horses at high noon. We kissed. He drew back and looked at me.
“Oh, now, you don’t want to start this?” He seemed amazed, stunned, reeling a little, as if he’d just been hit in the eye with a BB.
Why not, I thought. It has to happen sometime. I kissed him again, shucked him of his jeans and he became interested, so that we made an impact when we hit the sheets.
This was my skewed logic in those days, those young, green days. In Spanish “verde”– green– refers to desire. As a poet there was a profound connection for me between all things sensual and writing and plundering the moment of its good things. In those days two weeks of courtship was a long time for me and plundering seemed like a good thing.
So, in that dusty bedroom, in the midst of the thunderstorm, we launched our ship. We put in at high tide whereupon we had to fight through roiling surf to get to open water.
I had just settled into that little place. I loved its wood stove, the writing alcove where I could look out at the mountains. But suddenly I was in a couple; with this guy there was no going home and silence in the aftermath. The next day there was a bouquet of flowers and a card on the front seat of my car, and an invitation to dinner. We spent two weeks never making it through a single movie we rented; metaphorically speaking, we were making our own in that luscious early steamy sex of discovery.
I found us a job on a horse ranch as a caretaker couple, closer to Boulder where I was teaching. We took that job. Then I noticed an ad for a teaching job in Longmont and told him about it; he got that job and has now been there for twenty years.
Moving to Boulder was important to me, as I needed to move on. I needed to leave Fort Collins and its troubled ghosts, how mired I was in the past. I could see I was stuck somewhere in the grief process. I needed to bid a final good-bye to two parents who had died within a year of each other, a house it was necessary to dismantle and sell, various locals and onetime friends, grad school cohorts. I ached to say adios to an old life and hello to a new one.
You could say I wanted a geographical cure, to reinvent myself in a new locale and begin a new history.
I have written about our rich and adventurous year on the Joder Ranch and for now that time is not on my mind.
On my mind is that we only stayed a year, and then moved back to the very place where we started out, to buy a piece of land and live there. Much has happened there, for good and for ill. Over time, my kennel of beautiful Golden dogs under a canopy of silver poplars came into being. I had an engagement ring on my finger. We had our interludes of happiness, our adventures, our fights and makings up. In fifteen years I raised twenty some litters of stunning dogs, carrying around baby bottles full of my patented formula in my pockets, filling up our land with things to worry about and things to do.
I still love it when the alfalfa on the pasture to the north is cut, because the air fills with that smell so particular to the West, even though when this neighbor puts in a night of felling his crop, it rains the next day. I love the bales of leafy may that in the curing compact themselves with their catnip-strong leaves so that they flake apart. The two grey Arabian mares we still share live for first cutting alfalfa; they clean it up and stand around dozing in bliss.
Eearlier I had attempted to leave Fort Collins and a long, grueling adolescence behind in moving to Minnesota with a boyfriend. After we split I stayed and put in seven years there, only coming back to take care of my mother because I thought I should. That cost me, in terms of my career; I had birthed a book and become a literary fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts. I kept thinking I would go back the following month and now over thirty years have passed.
I really stapled myself to this community when I rode my Arabian Mare WR Apris drunk, forgot to check the cinch, and fell when the saddle slipped after our ride, fracturing my leg. Then, I had a long recovery ahead of me, half of it in a nursing home and half of it back together with the companion from whom I needed to move on, the guy I was going to marry but didn’t, whom I now, tongue in cheek, sometimes refer to as my “wasband”, because that’s what he was to have been…
He is kind and generous and took care of me, but under those conditions I grew down; I fell back into darkness as opposed to climbing on into the light of a world made new, rain-cleansed by grieving and closure.
The hardest leavetaking of all has been to re-extricate myself from the “us” we became again, and begin to recover my independence and reclaim a writing life and I can tell, as I write this with a lump in my throat, that I’m still in the middle of the process.
One day not long ago, I was sweeping my kitchen floor, noticing that it calms me to sweep and that I do it often. Suddenly an idea came to me for a story, a silly, fanciful story, about a kind of Quixote-esque figure I called the Pasha. I wrote something I called “The Pasha, The Sweeper and the Stallion”, which I’ll post sometime.
This was new for me and it gave me a sense that my life wasn’t as stalled as I thought, that despite the fact that the Alzheimer’s ward of the Golden Peaks Nursing Home and the rooms where I recovered from my leg fracture are about fifty yards away, separated from me only by a few brick walls and a privacy fence.
The world of my invention is thousands of miles away in another time; it is a kingdom of odd little people, a cultural amalgamation of characters doing silly things. Writing my Pasha stories has been pure escapism and given me the courage to take a look at some of the pieces I’d put away, some of the memories that stand out that don’t so much make me think in terms of being trapped in a dead-end life and don’t wake up the ghosts. I not only dusted a few of those off, but started some more, and then I started to finish the things I’d begun, posting them and write new things, embarking on the writing of memoir and vignettes. Writing these things has begun to make me feel that the past is the past and that I’ve arrived at some new intersection of time and circumstance.
Our lives don’t always move in a straight line from birth to high school to college to marriage to empty-nesting to golden years. I see that the kind of moving on one needs most to do is to take hold of the present, and dwell within a new psychological location, jettisoning baggage, processing grief, gathering up the work worth keeping and ditching the rest. Why drag every anchor?
My cousin Holley and I reconnected a few years ago, thankfully before she died of breast cancer. I had belatedly grown an interest in our family past in a good way; I had begun to wonder about the story told in one photograph in particular of my great great great grandmother, my great great grandmother, my great grandmother as a young mother, my grandmother as a young girl, all four women sitting in faded grey light under trees, , in dark dresses, looking at the camera. When I set a photo of my mother holding me next to it, there are six generations of us, the New Mexico women, the Southwestern side of the family.
Holley was startled when I asked her to tell me what she knew of these women, and what had happened to the family china she had taken off to California when she got married.
“I sold it all,” she said. “I don’t want anything in my house from those years, that belonged to those people.”
I was stunned. As we talked it became evident that she had done her utmost to divorce all of us, even relegating us to the status of her “crazy family”. To move on, her husband left the East Coast of his roots for Sauselito, where he lives on and writes and on a social media site, cites his pastimes as “drinking and staring at the ocean.” He still goes to Paris to grieve her; he scattered all of her ashes there, although I would have liked to have a tiny cache’ of them with me.
Before Holley died she sent on family papers, and copies of a picturesque account of my pioneer family archived at the Albuquerque museum. I have pieced together my origins and roots from those papers and passed what I learned along to her oldest son.
Meanwhile, I brought with me here pieces of my history so that I wouldn’t lose track of it. I need to feel connected to my past and my family– I just need to live in the present and not keep trying to go home again, even though it is comforting to visit, and lie in the shadows of my old room, in my old bed, with the dogs I had to leave behind– for a few hours, no longer. Going back to a familiar place ought to be for comfort, solely: inevitably, it isn’t where I thrive anymore.
Stay tuned for a post on a trip I took to Italy in my early twenties which became a life within a life for me– a rich, romantic time. When I had to leave, there was an abrupt parting, a severing, as my amore was whisked away leaning out of the window of a train. It was a clean end to a real-time opera, with sharp grief; in a few days I became grateful for my adventure and looked at the road ahead: after all, how many people get to go to Italy and fall in love?
Being time-caught between past and present can be its own kind of hell. For me, I think, it’s about it being very hard to say good-bye: it is, in fact, my least favorite phrase. However, if I don’t keep answering to where the last years of my life want to take me, no matter how hard it is to let go, it is abundantly clear to me that one day I will become trapped in grief’s soft and familiar bed, and the curtain will fall. My cousin in law has written that as he left Paris someone said au revoir to him, as opposed to adieu. Until we meet again vs. good-bye. This became what he said to himself as he caught a cab for the airport. In Spanish: hasta luego– until then, vs. adios. We can soften our leavetakings this way.
Enough about me: what of you, and your thoughts and experiences here about “closure,” letting go, moving on???