I have been silent the past few days because worry has crept up like fig roots in a well or vermin in the coop. It has been eating my quiet morning hours, and instead of writing I pace the house folding laundry and watch the rain turn to sleet. Fat wet flakes arrow to the ground. The sky is white. Tree branches glisten. The road is slick with mud eight inches deep. Cars get caught in the grooves and the only way forward is to cling to the wheel and not press too hard on the gas pedal. The mud pulls the car where it will. Oncoming traffic is a hazard. You just have to keep going. I remember when I thought worry was something you could avoid, like the flu, or falling off of rooftops, and the answers were easy and obvious, A or B. I remember a time before having this baby, or the other one, now a coltish four-year-old whose skin has become translucent with winter and illness.
It makes me quivery, watching him. His eyes are dark, and the glands in his neck swollen, just slightly. Fluid in his ears has become a perfect haven for repeated infection. Heâ€™s been sick for months, but last week was the worst. Recurrent fevers. Antibiotics are bullshit for this. Worry. Weâ€™re all doing the best we can; just trying to keep going.
â€œWhat?â€ He asks after everything, his eyes watching my lips move. â€œWhat?â€
The world sounds like it is under water to him, and feels like it is under water to me.
This is what it is like: your heart out there beyond you, beyond your control, caught in the nook of a small boyâ€™s fleeting smile.
I want him to be okay. I know he will be, eventually, and I could kneel and kiss the ground in gratitude for that. But still, it has been a long time. Long enough for his hearing to have temporarily diminished by almost twenty decibels. Long enough for winter with its carpetbag of ailments to have gotten under my skin.
Other people live temperate places where winter and summer are not equal, fifty-fifty, half the year. They live among trees that are not bare sticks until the end of May. They do not know how the summer sun feels like an addiction when it finally arrives with a frantic ruckus bursting of bloom and bush, blurring the memory of snow. But here, winter stretches out until it feels like forever. Until it is impossible to remember the color of new leaves, or sunburn, or a healthy boy with sun gold skin and bare feet, carefree, without congestion. Here, the light is weak and pale for so long the body hungers for it. The craving is vicious and intense.
I used to live in more temperate places, where the ocean wasnâ€™t far and winter was more like a shrug than a death grip. I used to be single, then coupled, always self-reliant, defiant, determined. I used to imagine that the way you avoided regret was by plunging ahead; doing whatever it was that you thought you wanted without looking back.
I used to have a plan for everything. I remember, in fact, when plans seemed more real than the moment, and I harbored the idea of a self unaffected by the world. I remember really believing that if I played it cool, struck first, kept my bags packed, played hard, and kept my head up, I would always be ahead of the game and safe. I thought I could outwit the wolf, keep the poignancy of life biting me and leaving its mark.
I hadnâ€™t dug in yet. DH and I hadnâ€™t been together for all that long then. We lived in a small beach side bungalow with a yellow dog. The tides came in and left. Sometimes they came up high and an siren sounded and everyone would leave their houses and find their cars and drive them up to higher ground, to garages or further up side streets as the tide came licking up over the seawall, filling the streets with salt water and debris.
When we came back from a staying at lakeside cabin in the mountains where he proposed and I said yes, we found that fleas had infested our house. I remember unpacking bags in the laundry room; bending to pick up rumpled towels and bathing suits and finding that fleas had sprung onto my legs. We drove together to the store for those a couple of those toxic flea bomb canisters, set them off, and drove away again. Stayed somewhere else. Laughed.
Things could have fallen apart then and I would have shrugged. Picking up and moving on meant throwing my favorite pair of jeans into a bag with a couple of pens and a notebook. Sure, it meant heartbreak, I loved the man Iâ€™d just said yes to, but I could have gotten over it then.
It was all about staying in motion; keeping my open. I expected, maybe, to marry him, but I also expected that I might not. I expected the other shoe to drop. I never expected that my heart would know a love so fiercely beyond the tensile of that early affection that I would find myself here.
Now I look at him scrubbing a pan in the sink and want to sob. His back is to me, and suddenly he so beautiful I hardly know what to do with the moment. His muscles ripple under his blue cotton shirt. He turns, dries the pan with a faded red and white towel, places it on the stove, drizzles olive oil into it, and turns the gas flame on.
I wonder if we could have become this without our boys, without this place here that weâ€™re trying to make year by year into a home.
Worry tempers the heart. Worry is the murder of crows in the tall poplar shrieking at the lone hawk that swoops, alights, preens. Worry, because now there is so much to loose. Because their small hearts are my responsibility, and Bean is still sick, and because no one has the answers (and antibiotics and allergies and preschool ailments have created a wicked sucker punch.) It is an unfamiliar anatomy, this worry. Like someone come to visit me in the pitch black, and all I can do is reach out and hold on, and let my hands discover its shape in the dark.