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November first and winter is driving the red and yellow and browned dead leaves from their tenuous hold on the branches of the deciduous trees that make Spokane such a green city in summer. They pile up against walls and in ditches, against fences and in my front yard. They catch and hold in the arms of the evergreens, hanging forlorn and askew between the undaunted needles. We live on Evergreen Road in Spokane, a city on the edge where the pine trees meet the sage brush. The sage brush and the evergreens holding green in the snow. Winter's coming.
What will any of us do when the election is over? I have never been this engrossed in an election before, and I'm spending uncounted hours in front of the TV watching the coverage on the news channels. No matter who wins, Wednesday is going to be an anticlimax. If Barack wins, I'll be crashing from an enormous endorphin rush on Tuesday night. If McCain wins, I'll be depressed as hell. Either way, Wednesday will be a let down. I'm so excited about this election, magical thinking has crept in. I'm willing people to vote for Barack. Vote for BARACK!!!
Almost biting my nails, almost that nervous. Trying not to hope too much, trying to be ready for disappointment, bracing against the hope, building a wall around it to keep it safe and pure, yet contained, restrained. Peeking out of my safe hiding place, hoping nobody sees my heart busting open in my chest, about the break like pain exploding outward from a wound. Listening and watching the last hours being ticked off, the final cruel assaults. I have been casting the same vote since I turned 18. The vote for hope, the vote for peace, the vote for Obama.
My country, 'tis of thee. sweet land of liberty. Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.
My heart breaks and the tears flow, tears of joy, of solace, of hope. America the beautiful again! How heavily the weight has pressed us down these last eight years, too long have we watched the bandits ravage our country. Almost I did not believe my country could rise up again. But then the crowd surged, my countrymen lined up, demanded a new chance, a fresh start. God bless America.
The little kids voted on Nickelodeon and elected Obama. The school kids voted at my grand daughter's school, and elected Obama. The world rallied and called out and elected Obama. And finally, the American electorate lined up and elected Obama. The realization is slow to seep into my consciousness, so accustomed am I to oppressive thoughts. Hope is a young emotion. Am I still capable of it I wonder? Can I still be optimistic? Can I still believe in change. In the sixties I poured all my energy into the causes of the day. Can I pour myself out again?
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Ten windows, upstairs and down, ten openings in the walls of the house, new windows, new sealings new moldings new surrounds. Where have the noises from the street gone? Who turned down the volume so we can no longer hear it, the din or the street outside. It's so quiet in here now. The house is sealed. It holds the heat in and the noises out. We huddle around the fireplace and watch the mellow flames roll over a huge log of pine. Roll and tumble inside the fire box and kiss the glass with orange elongated lips. The wood crackles.
Today I, Emily, died. I was there having a baby and then we were all in the cemetery. I was confused, and felt still part of the living world. But there I was in the cemetery, asking if I could go back just for a day. And they let me. But it was so strange. I wanted to pause every second of it to savor it, but on it went in its usual way, and I couldn't get anyone to stop and look at me, so finally I gave up on the living and went to my place among the dead.
A family that blew apart like a tornado hit the house and scattered us everywhere. We all left home just as soon as we could, went our separate ways, holding the love that survived the storm in a private place, holding it within, unseen and unshown, in some ways unknown and uncertain. I tried not to look at it as the years rolled past, tried to make my own life, something new, something mine, something untouched by his dirty mind and his violent hands. I created my own space, a safe place. Who would I invite in? What bond unbroken?
But they came, with incontrovertible claims, shared pain, named joy, poetry on the bed when he was gone to work, the dog biscuit club, the belt hanging on the wall like a reminder of what would come. But not then, not now when we are together apart from him. I know you and you know me. Here there is no hiding. We share this one story, this one struggle, this one survival, this one burden we carry on our backs and in our hearts. It plays like a chord, vibrating in harmony, and I know where I belong is here.
Doing the crossword puzzle keeps me humble. It makes me realize how much I do not know, about so many topics. Even popular culture, which you would think would be hard to miss if you're even minimally paying attention in life, even there I am pathetically uniformed. With the New York Times puzzle I do okay on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday, as the difficulty is ratcheted up, I start to struggle and by Thursday, there is simply nothing I can do about it. Luckily there are two puzzles in the paper, along with the Jumble, so I'm saved.
I'm listening to Ellen on the TV and watching Richard out of the corner of my eye. He's staining the new window frame in the kitchen, where the garden window is. Outside leaves are flying every which way and catching up in the branches of the evergreens. One of the Aspens broke off above ground. It lays in the litter waiting to be picked up like all the rest. Time is running out for sitting here pensive at mid-day. Outside the ground is wet and soft, but inside the plants are crying out for water. What little discipline is this?
Friday the thirteenth, what a day to open a play. The costumes are set, everybody has practiced with make-up a time or two, the few props are managed smoothly and Richard made us steps so we can all get our aging bodies and knees up and down onto and off of the stage with minimal pain and risk of falling. It seems we are ready. Now if there is an audience, I guess "Our Town 2008" is a go. The Sage Players is born, a troupe of senior citizens having way too much fun for our own good. Curtain!
One banana, thirty almonds and a quarter pound of turkey. A feeling of fullness in the middle, lack of blood to the brain, eyes at half mast, dry mouth and a slight headache. At 2 p.m. No sun rays have found a route down to this wet and chilly mess we have here on the ground. Rotting litter. What did I just step in? It slipped under my shoe. Wet leaves and unmentionables. Shades of brown, gray surround. Turning my collar up. The garden a ruin. Dead vines clinging yet to the fence. A few rotten tomatoes melt into the ground.
The first thing I do when the show is over is rub the grease off my face. Then the adrenalin rush ends, and exhaustion rushes in to take its place. I sag. I mean physically, mentally, emotionally. Visibly, audibly I fall apart at the seams. It's all I can do to get to the car. Thankful that Richard is doing the driving, I let myself go completely. As soon as I get home, the tights and black clothing comes off, and I'm into my pajamas no matter what time it is. I don't know how professional actors do it.
After a show I don't sleep worth a damn. Nightmares all night, tossing and turning. I wake up drained and discouraged, wondering why I do this to myself, and whose idea it was that doing a show would be fun. My whole body aches and there isn't any energy left in me. The day is gray toned and dulled out whether or not the sun shines. For me it's a lost day, the day after the night before. I guess it's something like having a hangover, except I haven't had anything to drink. Why is it so much like work?
The earth is warm and we are comfortable here. It has not always been so. There was the ice, cold winds and burning brightness, the glaring of the moon like a naked goon, a laughing fool. Get back in the cave where it's warm. Life is short and food is hard to get. Now we lay on the grass or the sandy beaches along the coast, we toast. It makes us laugh out loud. There is nothing much to prove, we can do as we wish, and the sun shines down its blessing on us. Warm, warm to the bone.
Cold, so cold. I must remain calm, not panic. Control my breathing, hold my muscles soft. Letting in the cold, feeling it settle deep in my chest, wrap around my elbow, carve the shape of my legs. My feet become solid like stones. I wiggle my toes. Take a slow deep breath and curse the distance I must go to get home. The hill rises before me a pale path in the soft moonlight. I know it dives and turns beyond the crest. I must not run. Walk says the voice in my head. Walk calmly and let in the cold.
Sweat breaks out on my chest. I roll over and wake up from the dream. Throwing the covers off, I grab at my nightshirt and rub away the wet. Where was I? Who was that? Why did I want to go there? Who spoke to me at the door? Where am I now? The room comes back, like a memory, from yesterday. Are you still here? Where is the dog? I can hear her breathing at the doorway. I slide my trembling hand across the bed, and he is there, solid yet soft, sleeping quietly. The clock drops a number.
The light from a passing car throws a beam across the ceiling, down the wall, flashes for an instant on the mirror where a picture of me as a baby blinks back at me. How long since I was that child? Over 20,000 days ago, I climbed up into a stranger's lap and looked back at the camera where my mother said, "Smile." I made a fist. My eyes opened a little wider and the camera snapped. I wore a one piece pram, zipped open at the neck. My hood was thrown back. No smile came to my lips. Black.
"Go home, you're not wanted here."
"I'm telling you I want to come in, I want to talk to her."
"You can't come in. Anyway, she's not here."
"Yes, she is."
"No, she's not here."
"I don't believe you. If she's not here, why don't you let me in?"
"Because you shouldn't be here."
"I just want to talk to her."
"Well you shouldn't just come over here like this."
"Oh, come on. You know you're just protecting her."
"What if I was?"
"Just let me in. I won't do anything."
"Look I told you I can't let you in."
"What are you hiding there?"
"Nothing. I'm not hiding anything."
"I can tell you have something behind your back. What is it?"
"It's nothing. You still have to go. I can't stand here at the door all night with you."
"But I promised already I wouldn't do anything. I just want to come in for a minute. I just want to look around."
"Because she took my stuff. I want to see if it's here."
"Look, if she took your stuff I can't help you with that. You'll have to talk to her."
"Then what are you hiding there?"
Tomorrow we will open the front of our house to the cold west wind for about ten hours, while workmen reconstruct and install a new front door. With temperatures dropping into the 20's at night and little in the way of sunlight these several days, it promises to be a chilly experience. The end result will probably be welcome, once we get the house warmed up again. We're going to have the prettiest front door on our road. I've been looking, and what I see is that the fancy doors are mostly on the hill, not down here in the valley.
I'm crawling on my belly in the grass, afraid to raise my head. I can hear the bullets wizzing by me, the grass snapping and shearing off above my head. I don't know why they are shooting. Don't they realize I am here? This was supposed to be fun. Somewhere off to my right, Jack calls my name. I turn my head in his direction and call back, "I'm here." "Stay down," he shouts. "What's going on?" I call back to him. The blood is pounding in my ears and my heart is about to explode. Then something hits my leg.
The sun goes behind a cloud and a drop of rain smacks against my canvas coat. There is dirt in my mouth, I don't know how it got there, but it tastes sweet. I think of pecan pie. My leg starts to hurt, and I realize a bullet has hit me. Just below my knee. It burns like fire and ice. I twist and look down, and I can see the blood pooling on my pants leg, dark brown and spreading like ink on a blotter. My head begins to swim and the world is spinning around me.Stay awake!
The voice inside my head becomes a shout. It is shouting at me, "Stay awake!" My fingers dig into the ground, past the grass and into the dirt. Tiny rocks press against my fingers. I feel around for something solid to hold onto. Slowly the world comes to a stop and I am lying there again, a friend to gravity. My cheek pressed against the earth feels cool, but sweat is beading up under my clothes. The pain has gotten worse, and my breath comes ragged and fast. I am breathing through my mouth. My chest is heaving now.
The first thing I hear is the grass swishing as it is moved out of the way. Then I hear the thud of footfalls. "Jack?" I call out weakly. "It's me," he says. "Are you okay?" "No," I answer. "I'm shot." "Hell," he says. "The shooting's over. They're working the dogs. There's a bird down," he says. "Why?" is all I can think of to say. "Goddamn fools!" he says as he comes into sight at my right elbow. I am pressed to the ground like it is my mother. "You can relax now," he says. "Where you hit?"
"It's my leg. I can't move it." "Okay, just let me look at it. Stupid sons of bitches!" he says. "Goddamn foolishness." "It hurts," I say. I can feel my skin getting cold now, cold and covered with sweat. My stomach suddenly starts to turn over, and I have to throw up. "It's okay," he says. "Let it out." I hear myself say I'm sorry, but it sounds like it is coming from someone else. He puts his arms around me and starts to shift me over, away from the mess. The pain in my leg screams like sirens going off.
Out of nowhere, tears well up in my eyes. Then I feel the tears burst over and run down my cheeks. "You're going to be okay," he says. "You're going to be okay." Then one of them is there. "What happened?" he asks. Jack jumps up and punches him right in the jaw, and he falls to the ground beside me. "You shot me, you son of a bitch," I hear myself say. "You shot me." And then the silence opens like a mouth and swallows me up. "You shot me," I say again. He lays there looking at me.
Another month has gone by. Winter is no longer coming. The trees are bare, most of the leaves raked up and bagged, the first snow has melted. The last of the flowers is gone. A few hardy green bushes brave the nightly blast of icy winds. We burn wood and watch the flames lick the sides of the fire box. The house is warm and tight. Richard has a cold. The smell of cough drops and Vicks and eucalyptus oil lingers in the air. I stare into a candle flame and pray. This is the time of quiet waiting.
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