on love, loss, and living: scenes from a hopeful past



“He comes to you and you are a white door full of bright light to be stepped through, open to him always, and illuminated. With him, you glow, shimmer and shine before your eyes through the dark and the breathing.” 11/25/08


“First snowfall yesterday morning- Sunday sleet stuck around, and became an overnight blizzard. Not so bad… and bright! And all the better for snuggling. My mind is already planning next year’s gardens… Garfield Park fire escapes, rooftops, whisky barrels, and squatted lots… and already you’re mentally sorting your possessions, what will stay, what will go… with you and him and into the future- a bright beautiful hopeful soothing promise of a string of tomorrows, like bright beads on a strand of days spent waking with your beloved.” 12/02/08

Years pass. Rising.

“Winter has nosed past the long fall, now oddly warm days have gone and the cold outside has descended, a numbing chill that stabs at bare flesh. And so you burrow into blankets and new books, and blot out the freezing outer world, and retreat into the comfort of words and stories, mostly agricultural. There is soap to be made, and balms, and endless baskets of sewing, things to be photographed, cataloged, posted, and sold, chickens to feed and ice to break from buckets and waterers, apples withering, waiting in the chill to be turned into pies and sauce, preserved in jars for future hungers, fish to be fed, greens to sow and snip, manuals to be written and a story to be told. You’re writing it as you go along, but yearn for a quiet and spare orderly place to work on them in. I’d daydreamed yesterday, while reading farmer stories, of taking the laptop to the cabin, lighting a fire, making tea, and working there, free from the ever-present internet temptation, there where I could plug in but safely unplugged.


And then I walked into the house. It was bitterly cold outside, and there was still a solid core of ice in the chicken waterer that had sat in the sink in the unheated house all day, though a space heater hummed under the cabinet below to thaw the pipes. Every surface was covered, with tools or screws and parts and dirt. Broken drywall strips leaned on the wall by the stove, and would all have to be moved, as would the too-close bins of scrap wood and kindling on the other side, as well as the things on top of the stove itself before I could even think of lighting a fire. It all seemed so overwhelming and oppressive. And as I looked at the chaos, the clutter and the sheer volume and weight of the project before us, first slow, then fast tears slid down my cheeks, hot, then quickly cold as they met the chill of the air inside. I wiped them away and looked for an empty chair, and not finding one pushed back a box so that I could at least perch on the front of one and let myself sob for a second, then was quickly calm. It would get done. Besides, I had to go home soon, back to the studio, and I had to knock it off or my face would freeze on the two block ride back from the house. The fella would be home and wrap me up in a big bear hug and we’d try to make a plan. We spent the evening cleaning and sorting piles at the studio, and made a tiny dent in the disarray. Bit by bit…”


Reassuring images come back- it is late summer, and we are sitting at night on the back porch, our back porch, ringed with potted peppers and petunias and the green trees are dancing as a storm blows in. We sit in silence, watching the rain begin slowly and then blot out everything in thick blowing sheets. I thank him, for this moment, this place… making it possible.  I feel a sense of deep calm, so blessed to be watching the trees sway, the heart-leaved cottonwood rustle, the air electric, and all of it ours.


I’m not quite sure where home is sometimes, or where I belong. A part of me yearns for the patch of land where I grew up, where the ghosts of my greats and grandparents wander the empty fields, like lost cattle out on the red clay and fescue, rambling but rooted there for over a century… and for my father, brothers, family… but outside of that small comforting refuge of an idea is a larger community that bears little resemblance to the place I’d like to imagine going home to- sprawling, suburban, stripmallish and tacky. Shiny trucks and suv’s doing no real work, four-lane highways between everything and everyone in a hurry. Walmart and Tyson own every damn town, every store, job, working farm… and so I return to the city from each visit, and feel some semblance of relief of having arrived “home” again, here where my bike waits to convey me through the somewhat-familiar grid, and where friends and like-minded folks get together at late-night gatherings in backyards and around bonfires over good food and homemade beer… and yet… here still life churns at breakneck pace, days and weekends scheduled weeks in advance, always things to do and never any time to sit and listen, for being still, and above all, not enough space.

As much as I love parties and company, I also have a contrary side which just wants room, and quiet, and to be able to go for a damn walk without seeing anyone, or especially without getting hollered at and constantly feeling in your pocket for the knife or can of mace reassuringly placed there… I know I would not be happy in isolation, but sometimes I crave it, especially now in this crowded loft that is mostly his, for the proverbial room of one’s own, and a dog, which he really doesn’t understand and you’re not sure he ever will. On some level, you’re closer now than ever before in this city to having the home you crave, a patch of dirt and a quiet spot where you can feel safe, and secure, and to think and plan ahead without starting over and over and over constantly on a new patch of rented or squatted ground. But for all its comforting sureness, it’s still so small, and the lot to the west of the house still such a sliver of uncertainty… and though you have his word and know his heart on many levels, still you are not married, to him or thus to the land, the house… and when he jokes that you could move out any time, really, if you’re not happy with the way things are it cuts deep into that core of dread and uncertainty, that he will leave you like the others, that you will prove unreliable and unloveable ultimately. And your rational mind recognizes these fears as unfounded, absurd, untrue, but they remain there, ready to spring upon you without warning, quickening your breath, heart racing irrationally with fear of losing everything you’ve grown and grown to love.


Ever the anachronism, I’m not sure I’ll ever really fit here the way things are. As I struggled with the bucket full of water yesterday, carrying it out the front door, around the yard and house, over the temporary barrier in the gangway set up to keep the chickens in the back yard, and then to the coop in the farthest corner of the yard, I wished I could have just gone out the back door, so simple… but not, barricaded with a heavy steel pry-bar propped against an unhung solid wood door, which was propped against the locked proper door, and behind all that, a scissor-gate was padlocked securely across. I thought of the home I’d grown up in, doors unlocked, indeed, unlockable even… of how “locking” the front door meant hooking the screen door eyelet, the back door almost always left open. We were latch-key kids without need of keys, at a place where my granny could watch from her kitchen window and just see when we got off the schoolbus at the crest of the next hill, where the biggest dangers were the bull in the field, the muddy pond, or crossing the street for the mail- our rural route now a two-lane highway that dead-ended into the lake a few miles from our house.
And now I live in a place where I also can hear gunshots at night, but they’re not coonhunters out with their dogs, treeing some critter, or practicing with their new deer rifle, but possibly people dying on either end of the bang over something small. I yell at people in the street who cavalierly toss their litter over their shoulders as they walk, without hesitating or missing a step… and I pick up bags of it that blow into our unkempt garden on a squatted city lot- chip bags, paper wrappers, styrofoam, shopping bags, cans, condom wrappers, mcdonalds bags, hypodermic needles, and with each piece my resentment grows. I try to stay light and cheerful but it weighs on me. No place is perfect or immune- when I was a child, we’d clean our chosen lake spot and each time (though we were often there every day in the heat of the summer, even the tepid water a welcome relief from the torpor of an Arkansas August without AC) we would find fresh beer bottles, soda cans, hotdog wrappers, tangled fishing line and soiled diapers. I still can’t comprehend the elan with which some folks fling their spent filth and detritus, but here on the west side in a rundown neighborhood wracked with poverty, the sheer volume of it overwhelms me. It’s depressing and I can’t possibly stop it all. I’m a minority here, an outsider who will never really belong. I dream of raising pigs with my chickens, and dairy goats and whole orchards full of fruit trees… and yet I don’t want to be forced to rely on a car to get around, don’t want to be isolated from the community of folks I’ve grown to love. I don’t want to leave this life and my comfortable things behind, but also dream of an utterly different life- but who doesn’t?” 5/6/2012



And now here we are, exactly where in some ways I’d feared I might end up.  And you know what?  So what.  I had hoped to not have to start again, but what is life if it is not always beginning?  When you stop creating your world anew each day, you’re dead.  I fought and struggled against this outcome for so long… trying to keep those dreams alive and at what cost?  No place, no person, is worth giving up your self, your spirit, and your sense of worth, to always acquiesce, to accept without comment or question.  I admire confidence, and being capable, but hubris and too much machismo,  not sexy.  And so I’d stopped feeling, gone numb, tiptoed on hollow eggshells…  No more.  Girl, life is for living.  And look at you go!  Shhh… stay. It’s alright. I may not know where I’m going or how I’ll get there- but I know how I’ll start- one step at a time.  Each day.  It starts with work, for others but also for yourself.  It starts with striving, with action and a plan, and the grace to adapt when life has other plans than you’d considered.



One thought on “on love, loss, and living: scenes from a hopeful past

  1. Katy

    It was the chip bags and the plant theft at the park that finally made me need to leave the city. I just didn’t want to continue the work of making myself not care. I also wanted to pet random dogs and know that they would most likely be friendly


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