Ms. Fastidious Neighbor, astride a lawn tractor, circled the ash tree in her front yard, mulching. Tractor motor droned for hours, leaves transformed from copper-colored carpet into phalanx of yard waste bags. At day’s end, they stood in her driveway like bowling pins. Such perfection. I envied her.
Next morning my husband helped her re-fill those sacks, then marched through our front door. Scowled. “Last night somebody plowed their car straight into her bags.” Scowled again. And grunted. “Teenagers.”
I tut-tut-ed. Paused. Imagined sighting those bags in my headlights…the decision…the impact… the shower of leaves. Strike! Teenagers. I envied them.
Ten Practices That Will Not Lead to Awakening
9. Reading spiritual books
10. Following a teacher
Ten Practices That Might Not Hurt, You Never Know
9. Reading spiritual books
10. Following a teacher
May. A long missing friend updated her email address.
“What's new?” I asked.
“Glioblastoma multiforme.” A Google search revealed six months for her to live.
June. I asked, “When you think about dying, are you afraid?”
“I don't know," she said. "Because what comes next...is nothing."
July. She said, "I don’t have enough lounge wear.”
August. I answered, “I’m jealous of my sister’s pretty lounge wear.”
She said, “You be pretty. I’ll take comfort.”
Our conversation lagged, her email buried ever deeper in my inbox, beneath coupons, yoga studio updates, and water bills.
October. "Now where were we?" I asked.
She didn't answer.
Another day. Another parade of chores and choices I'll mistake for mine. Hours passed inside the Dawn suit bring fatigue from overuse of muscles both physical and cerebral, hunger for what's just out of reach, and laughter when I'm lucky. Mop the floor, make love, mourn the lost––a creature of habit, I embrace one instant, lean away from the next. But every now and then, glimpsed from a vantage point burned clear of fog, I no longer want to pick and choose. Every now and then, it's enough that each moment unfolds, fulfills its promise and flies into eternity.
1. I no longer ask why.
2. My retirement account is too small to worry about losing.
3. My husband is willing to use headphones while he watches television, when I want to go to bed at 8:30.
4. My husband doesn't make fun of me when I go to bed at 8:30.
5. I don't need willpower this week, because we polished off the apple pie last week.
6. Telemarketers haven't found my cell phone number yet.
7. I bought a replacement peace lily without feeling guilty about spending the money or killing the plant.
8. There's no way to speed up awakening and no way to slow it down.
9. Dad overruled Mama when they named me, so I became Dawn instead of Mabel Geraldine.
First I suspected. Then questioned. Then listened. And learned the reason I could not remember my childhood was this: My father was violent. He abused his kids.
I went through the expected emotional, therapeutic and intellectual reactions. Came out the other end, calm.
Except for this: I couldn't put the words Dad and abuse into the same sentence.
And then surrender happened. I did not choose it. The floor caved in beneath my feet. I plummeted through shock, rage, grief, relief because finally there were answers, and then through grief again. And again. Presumed I'd surrendered right down to the sub-basement of acceptance, but a sink hole opened up. There's no hitting the bottom of surrender.
There's only this: a space of irrational inexplicable affection.
The back door slammed shut, rattling the window beside my bed. It woke me with a start, my room just above the kitchen. Mama yelled and locked the door. I peeked out. Dad stormed across the yard toward the car. I vowed to stay awake long enough to sneak downstairs and let him in when he came back. If he came back. But I was too little to stay awake.
At my grandmother's––a Trailways bus ride away from their angry voices––I played with a tin doll house. Downstairs a living room, kitchen and pantry. Upstairs a bath and bedroom, which opened onto a cobblestone patio. I longed to curl up on the pink plastic bed, beside a window that did not rattle.
My brother Michael was reciting family history. "...and Mama's mother was white."
She died before I was born. There were no photos. If grandma was white, what was I? The future looked grim. I might have to surrender the title of first black girl at my high school to wear an afro. Return all those Affirmative Action prizes, like my college education. Rescind my edginess at being the only African American in book group, yoga and dance class. (OK it's ballroom, so it probably doesn't count.)
I cornered Michael. "Mama's mother? White?"
"No," he said. "Mama's grandmother was white."
Mama…grandmother…black…white. Words. Puffs of air on to which my brain had bestowed meaning.
At the nursing home, I knocked on the door of 316.
Bessie peeked out, then embraced me like her long lost child. "It's been a while since you've stopped by."
"Yes, a whole week," I said.
"Sit down, dear. How long has it been since I saw you?"
"Way too long. A whole week."
Whose Voice was that, responding to questions as though they'd never been asked before? Where was my usual catch of impatience?
"How long has it been since you were here?"
"A whole week. Can you believe it?"
A sublime duet. One could not control dementia. The other could not control The Voice.