Sunday, June 25, 2006

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, in a place at the edge of the forest...

How I loved fairy tales and legends when I was a small girl. Encompassed in the process from "Once upon a time" to "and they lived, happily ever after" was a world in which, yes, there were terrors and injustice, there was magic, and true love, and peril--but with perfect symmetry all came out well in the end.

Once upon a time, not far from here, on a cool summer morning a young man with a puckish smile danced into a bookstore and lay an armload of roses at the feet of the broken hearted young woman there.
The roses were yellow and cream, pale pink, and flushed orange. They were wet with the dew of the morning, they were heavy with scent. The thorns made her hands bleed. The gesture made her laugh.

That morning every corner of the bookstore in which I was working had roses growing in it. It was one of the more spectacular moments in my life, but so typical of that young man.

Were we lovers? Were we even friends? No, we had one of those lightning struck bonds that have happened in my life from time to time, when strangers meet and hearts and souls collide. He was, in fact, gay and in a deep relationship. I was involved in a very complex and grief colored period of my life.

But he had bounded in one day, seeking books and conversation, and over the year we'd had a range of conversations. In an empty store we'd sit and share our stories. His were painful to hear--he was one of the first of a series of people who have come and laid open a volume of early childhood terror and abuse for my steady eyes to read and my steady heart to witness. He'd been through a lot.

One day, casually, I said, with the probably annoying petulant pretend cutesiness, "no one has ever laid roses at my feet". I don't remember now what caused that comment--what on earth had we been talking about? It might have been one of my "I wish I were Queen of the Universe" moments--these are usually, thank heaven for my reputation as a basically sane person, shared only with very close people.

And so, the roses.

He'd stolen them, of course, striping every garden in the town before dawn.

And then he was hospitalized. When he came again to see me he was angry. Furious would describe it better. He told me he'd died there, and it had been good. He described, with his face lit with joy and wonder, how it had felt to feel himself dissolving into the stars, into the galaxies, into the vastness of the universe--and how the nurses had slammed him back into life. And into pain. "I wanted to come tell you that, well, I don't think I will be here much longer. But it's a better way. If you could have felt it!"

He was dead two days later. They called it an accident, the head on collision.

Over the years, from time to time, I've thought of him. I've remembered the roses, and his dancing spirit. But he came to mind very sharply last week, because...well, you'll see.

Once upon a time there was a young mother. She had dark curling hair and three little children who had the same pretty masses of curls on their heads. She came to the bookstore to ask about midwives and doctors, her belly already blossoming with the 5 month pregnancy.

She cried, and sent the little ones out to their papa so that the truth could be put out in the air, looked at, examined, solved. "I've been diagnosed with breast cancer" she said. "My doctor says I must abort the baby, so I can start treatment immediately. I can't do that."

Yes, we cried together, that pretty young mother and I, and yes, I gave her the name and number of someone who would help her through her options and not yell at her.
"I've felt her move" she said.

The fourth child was born, a lovely daughter, as her mother had predicted. The mother started treatment after the birth, but died when the little girl was one. "The only thing I regret is that my children may not remember me" she told me.

Once upon a time there were a couple who wanted a child but could have none of their own. They had a fine house and they had money, but they felt the hole in their life. The pretty blonde child they adopted came from troubled circumstances but, oh, she was lovely and lively. As a toddler she'd come and sit at my feet to hear stories featuring the character she was named for, a Parisian girl of considerable spunk.

Once upon a time the darkhaired young woman whose mother had given her life for her, and the beautiful but troubled blonde became fast friends. When they turned 18 they went out to celebrate life, and the darkhaired girl had her dead mother's name tattooed across the small of her back, so as never to forget that woman, scarely older than she was now, who had brought her to life amid such fear and such hope.

Once upon a time two young women got into the new car one had been given, a fast, sleek car.
Once upon a time they drove north, through the forest, and I can imagine they were laughing, and I can imagine they were talking, and I can imagine they had their lives all in front of them, with complexity and passion and hope.

Once upon a time, and it wasn't long ago at all, a car went north, and a car went south, and, there, at the place in the road my friend of the armful of roses died, two cars met.

And, once upon a time, only last Thursday, the lovely adopted child died upon impact, and the girl with her mother's name needled into the small of her back was thrown to the pavement, and then taken far away, where now she rests and the doctors murmur "it would have been better for her had she died there".

I'm still waiting for some happy ending.

Much later. I just received word that the surviving girl has been taken off life support. And so an ending, and perhaps, who knows, a happy one in some scheme of things, in which the girls dance together in another dimension, and an unforgotten mother is there to meet them.
If it were a fairy tale, wouldn't it end so? They lived--somewhere--happily ever after.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

what thou lovest well

It was a phrase from a poem, a canto by Ezra Pound, that long ago I copied into one of my commonplace books, and wrote in black ink on a rounded piece of river worn stone. You'd think having loved the canto so much I would be able to quote it perfectly now, but I'm sure I am not quite recalling it correctly, and I am too lazy to rummage through my poetry shelves. But it went something like "what thou lovest well/cannot be reft from thee/what thou lovest well/is thine true heritage".

And, in the background of my mind, those little phrases, that old fashioned "reft", meaning taken away, stolen, lost..have for all these years quietly murmured onward. Sort of like the river at summer's height, when it pulls back to the harsher rocks, and stills the rush of the winter fullness.

One thing that took me from posting these weeks was the unexpected sudden decline of my old dog Buddy. Unexpected, because what we love is forever young, and in my mind my yellow lab was still the relatively spry youngster he was when he first showed up at our cabin in a winter storm, soaked through and imperative. But he is 14 years old, possibly 15 now. He no longer rushes ahead boldly when we walk together. And about two weeks ago my partner brought him in from a day in the woods, and Buddy had a huge patch torn from his side, another from his neck. Nothing beyond the first surface of skin, but blood oozed. And he was in shock, and shaking.

What had happened? My partner had noticed nothing. I thought wildly of all sorts of possibilities--a close encounter with a bear, a mountain lion; an unsteady fall down a shale cliff. The next day he could not lift his huge golden head.

And so I prepared for his passing. It brought back all my recent deathbed vigils, my father's death, my dear friend Sally's. It was the year anniversary of my friend Red's death. Death was everywhere, and though I remind myself that once I had a wonderful dream in which Death came to visit me, and she was a beautiful woman in a black and red gown, most elegant, and rather kind--still, the process is a harsh one.

Buddy and I went through 72 hours of around the clock focus. I slept beside him, gave him water, gave him medicines, gave him food. I kept waiting, remembering the passing of my dog Pepper so many years ago, for the moment his kind eyes would meet mine and he'd refuse the food, and then the water, and finally breathe a heavy final sigh and leave me.

I was okay with that, or so I told myself. We've had a long run together, my yellow dog and I. We've done good things and foolish things together, and there's not much you can say about a friendship that is better than that.

I changed his bedding. I tried to keep him comfortable. I slept lightly, as I have slept beside my children when they were ill, as I have slept beside my dying friends and family.

After three days he staggered to his feet and frailly walked to the door. I went with him. We slowly walked just to the rose bushes, and stared at the nesting swallows, and came back.

On the fourth day he pulled--still frailly-and started on the long walk to the store where we go together for dog treats. We had to rest three times on the way, but he made it. Shaking, but determined. He walked every inch of that shop, went to each of his friends, peered at the fish, the hamsters, the birds.

I was sure he was saying goodbye, and my eyes kept filling with tears.

On the fifth day he wanted to chase one of the cats. The cats, mind you, had been solemnly gathered at his side all these days. Pippin kept licking Buddy's ears. My pitbull, Champ, had been woefully quiet and depressed.

Somehow we've been granted a reprieve. For how long--I don't know. He's enjoying himself, almost back to his old self, walking with me everywhere, following me as I move through the bookstore, barking when he doesn't see me.

I went away for a night for a conference just a couple days ago, and in my hotel room woke to hear his imperious bark. My partner swears Buddy was not up at 2 in the morning that night, wanting something--but he sleeps soundly, how would he know? Whatever he wanted, he can have it now.

So why is Ezra Pound really on my mind? I know my time with Buddy is getting shorter day by day. Indeed, so is my time with all my loves. But I think something will endure.

And when I dared hope Buddy was staying with us a while longer, I met an old acquaintance out by the pomegranate tree. "Remember that old rose you gave me?" he asked, "you know, the mossy one?" I hadn't recalled that he had that rose, a refugee from the time my rented house and garden were being bulldozed, some 27 years ago. Unable to save the beautiful plants myself I sent out a call to all the gardeners I knew to come and take home whatever they could--the heirloom roses, the herbs, the various oldfashioned flowers and little trees. I have, from that time, some rosa mundi roses (they are short, open, striped roses that bloom early--I gave some to friends who gave some back to me years later). The moss rose my friend spoke of--now, he said, a huge six foot tall bush, covered with blossoms, was my favorite. It grew outside the bedroom window of that little cottage. The gardener who has it has never figured out its name--it is luminous pale pink and heavily mossed and scented.
"Hey, would you like a cutting now?" he asked. Well yes. The small pink tea rose is also thriving, he said.

It makes me smile. The garden I thought lost, for which I grieved fiercely, in fact spread out all across the county. And some of it is returning to my care.

I loved it well, you see.