rainbows and visitors
My English friend who lives on a unstable hillside in a newly thrown together shed, with his cat and his memories, stopped by the other morning to tell me there was a rainbow.
I immediately left the bookshop to rush out into the mixed rain and sunlight and stare at it.
I have very few rules in life, but one, as I told him, is to never miss the opportunity to stare at a rainbow. There aren't enough in a lifetime to take the risk of missing one.
He's a good man, married four or five times ("why on earth did you bother?" I once tactlessly exclaimed). He's a twin, adopted at four or five months of age with his pretty blonde sister. He was, he said, the extra--the dark and crying boychild. Much of his life...well, I don't probe where it hurts. But I see the pain.
"Stinky old dog" he greets Champ, and Champ is delighted. And because it is said with warm affection I don't get upset. Sure, call my old dog stinky and chat with my cats, it's fine.
There is an odd privilege to being the bookstore lady, the person who can be found with ease, who will take a moment to listen, who has some bowls of good fruit and a well known box of warm socks and a sort of Mary-Poppins grab bag of what-might-be-needed. I'm pretty lucky.
And people like my English friend do alert me to rainbows.
Yesterday was exceptionally full of visits and revelations, amongst the chat about the latest mystery novels, and whether someone who likes Steinbeck would like McPhee, and poetry, and rain.
What struck me was the common thread though, amongst the stories I was told.
Poppy's companion came, as he does most days, for apples and water and some bread and a biscuit for Poppy. Poppy's a little black and tan dog with white paws; to my untrained eyes she looks like a beagle, but she dances like a poodle and her person once told me she was a particular fancy sort of hound. Her person showed up last summer with her and asked for a needle and some thread to repair his sleeping bag. I had those on hand, but I also had a light sleeping bag not in need of repair, which I gave him. He said then he was moving north, just here for a day or two. Fine, said I. He said "I was once a meteorologist". Handy knowledge, I said.
So he came yesterday, got some apples. I offered him some kiwi fruit as well. He confided that pears were his very favorite. And he told me how his mom used to leave offerings of bread and fruit in the garden when he was very young, for the fairies.
We thought there were fairies, he said.
Well, maybe there were, said I, you never know. And I asked if he had many sisters and brothers or what.
And he told me. He told me his mom had been 15 when he was born, the eldest of her children. He told me his dad was drafted and sent to Vietnam, and the young girl said to hell with that, she wasn't gonna wait for a dead soldier.
And she gave her son to her sister to raise.
"How old were you?" I asked.
Four, he said. And he said when he was 15 his mother got in touch, but he didn't want to have anything to do with her. "I was 15, I didn't need a mother".
I said nothing.
"And when I was in the Navy later she wrote...well, she emailed...she had three children, she didn't need four. So that was that."
She's a nurse in Ohio. High up in some hospital, he said. He said he was proud of her. And his dad died, and his wife died, and there wasn't much to live for, so he walked out of the house with his dog, with Poppy, and that was a few years ago. And so it goes.
No sense in getting close to anyone, he said. And then he seemed a bit ashamed that he'd told me all too much, so I got busy looking for some biscuits for the dog, and wished him a good day, out there along the roads.
The next guy, with his pitbull puppy, had been thrown out again by his girlfriend. "So, I'm back beneath the bridge" he said, and he said he was sorry, cause he'd told me he was getting money together to replenish the dogfood and he didn't.
I understand, I said, things come up, don't feel bad. His girlfriend had taken up with some drugs he doesn't do, and some guys who can supply them.
I'm sorry, I said.
I know about his mom, who died long ago, and he found her. I know about the jail time and the series of girls, young women, who cling to him a while and then drift off.
The pup is looking good, though.
And then John came in. Now, I haven't seen John for a few months. The last times I saw him my heart was full of trouble. He was lean, and dirty, and desperate and sick. He was using, he was drinking, he was looking for some quick way to fortune or some quicker way to death. I'd run into him at night and his eyes were haunted.
Yes, his story has abandonment in it too, and foster care, and hardening.
John used to bring me small treasures. Small, stolen, treasures. I'd quietly try to get them back to where they belonged. He would offer me his gifts with hurting, pleading eyes.
Women liked John, especially women who shared his drugs. Oh, there were stories.
So he came in, after some months of no news, and he said "Kathy, I had to come see you. I'm clean, I'm okay. Took some jail, but I'm okay".
He'd been picked up for something minor, and had done a bit of county time, and then decided to go to a clean and sober house.
"Kathy, it's been 124 days. I'm not using, I'm not drinking, I have a job. I'm living up north, but I had to come see you".
I hugged him. I thanked him, I told him he looked great. He'd put on a little weight; had cut his long ragged black hair. He was smiling.
"You never gave up on me" he said. "You never did. So I'm not giving up either".
And then I cried.
(the photo, oddly, comes from Finland. But it so looks like my part of the world)