I wrote this piece for the memoir class I am taking. It is the last of five garden related pieces. I is also where we are today, where I am. And so, I’m putting it here.
I am a gardener.
I notice what goes on in gardens: flowers and vegetables and herbs, perennials, biennials and abundantly blooming annuals that don’t stop until the first frost. I notice trees and bushes, decorative, productive and the volunteers that can be the bane in a gardener’s vision. I notice what the bunnies are eating, what cannot survive without six hours of sun, what the weeds are choking out and what thrives in a microclimate close to a dryer vent on the north side of a house. I know which tulips were planted as bulbs last autumn and which were planted full grown two weeks ago along a walkway with a carefully planned casualness. I admire the window boxes on Beacon Hill—lush, overfull and overflowing, miniature landscapes in harmonies of pinks and creams and lavenders punctuated with trailing greens.
I went up to Cheshire and Justin’s house on Wednesday with the promise of holding Wilbur for an hour or two. Two weeks old and not spending too much time with eyes open. He had a doctor’s appointment earlier in the day and it tired him out. He nestled in my arms, moving his extremities the way a new baby does—random and without purpose. Amazing how dear such movements can be. And I cannot help but remember when his mother was that age and we brought her home to First Avenue in the East Village.
All is well at Wilbur’s house. Baby sleeping in adequate chunks of time; his bodily functions all working at full tilt. When else is farting charming? He has a good suck, fills his diaper regularly and cries in protest every time his little body is without clothes. Mama and Papa are content, and not as exhausted as I remember being.
“The wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep . . . my fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet . . .”
Once, the reedy soprano slid up and down her registers as quickly as her fingers slid around on the neck of her guitar.
She had long, straight hair, as fine as mine but very much blonder. It was flung over one shoulder with a deft flip of her head. Slight with a sweet, high voice concealing genius and gravitas. (Although now I wonder why genius does not routinely speak in a breathy soprano.) Hippy clothes or terribly cool apparel—cooler as she got older. Never quite settling down but moving in the company of splendid and beautiful musicians. Never quite molded by the commercial music scene but brilliant enough to wedge her way in, to command attention. Singing about quitting the crazy music scene and then going on to write and sing more and again.
Joni Mitchell sang at the Newport Folk Festival Sunday night as a surprise special guest of Brandi Carlile. It was a carefully orchestrated appearance, her first public performance since a stroke and brain aneurysm in 2015. A friend posted an early morning YouTube video on her Facebook feed. I clicked on the link and then got lost down a rabbit hole of videos catching Joni performing song after song—the highlights of her old masterpieces and the kind of standards that I loved to sing—and playing her guitar. Her voice—low and chesty, a voice that had come back from near death, an old voice so rich with meaning and inference and innuendo that it was like some rich, decadent dessert.
Reading this over, I feel like I am regularly reporting on a pendulum—steps forward and then back again. And admittedly, I desperately want to report on a simple, ordinary upward progress without a hint of directional change.
Yesterday was not a good day for Julia. What concerns me most is her moods and their resultant behaviors are neither reliable nor dependable. And they are also not predictable.
As I’ve written, we’ve had a few decent weeks with Julia. To add to the tidy pile of good—on Wednesday, another student bumped into her and her reaction was extraordinarily appropriate. The behavior of the other student may have been intentional but definitely not personal. Julia, who can make a very big deal about any casual physical contact, had no negative reaction. Staff sent her to the nurse in case something hurt and she was fine. She reported it to me in a very casual way—completely appropriate for the magnitude of the experiene. That felt good.
The bus didn’t come for Julia yesterday and I drove her to school. When I came back into the house, I breathed in the aromas of our morning—coffee, sweet tea, bananas and chocolate chip waffles with maple syrup. Could I delineate each flavor note? Probably not but smelling one, I imagined all the others. The aroma was that of our mornings. And there was such a peace in that. Our home takes on that aroma most mornings, I suppose. It is warm and welcoming. It is a good home smell, the scent of security, from which to leave to begin a day. Such a relief. It did not have to be like that. Even now. And I appreciate the work that I’ve done to make it so. It has been a long haul.
Julia put on a red plaid skirt, a green plaid shirt and a tiny white shrug today, together with some anime character knee socks and her white sneakers. The sneakers a concession because she has track after school. When I saw the clothes heaped in a pile on the bathroom floor, ready for after shower dressing, I made my sour lemon face which Julia did not see—those clothes do not go together. And admittedly, if I tried to put them together . . . but then again, I would have never attempted to put two plaids together let alone a dark red and a light green. Julia put them on and they looked okay, interesting even, somehow not outlandish at all.
Julia has her own style. Always. And she is on her own learning curve. I have said these things, thought these things for a long time. The mantra has seeped into my soul and I am beginning to believe it.
Julia will be walking in the high school commencement ceremony in a few weeks. She will not get a regular diploma—something that was hard to give up on when she was in 9th grade and something that I am so grateful that I did not hold onto. I think she might have been coaxed and prodded through the requirements and MCATS at Newton North, but not during these crazy two years, not during her rough transition from Madison in the months before shut down.
This was the assignment that Julia “could not do.” It is not an incredible piece of work but we had to have a conversation about how long it took to go from Thursday’s bad mood to Friday’s fetching materials to applying paint and ink to today’s making the actual piece. I wish she had a teacher who would really critique and offer some direction to her. And then, have her use the medium on some of her favorite anime characters.
Some days are a writing prompt waiting for me. Notions and ideas come from everywhere inside and out and I get lost in the riches of too much. Other days, I get nothing. And then there are days, when a host of mundane tasks call out to be done immediately, and I am sure I should sit and tap on the keyboard. When the chore is getting Julia to school or a scheduled zoom for either of us, I give in, do it, but then there are days like today.
Showered, breakfasted, clothes from last night’s late wash in the dryer. Kitchen should get cleaned up to bake Julia’s birthday cake, a run to get the saki to accompany the take out ramen she wants for dinner, a vacuum of the living room that smells like smoke because the wind came down the chimney last night and the supervising that will get Julia’s art homework started. None of it taking too long but I know those kinds of tasks——They eat up your my soul. They take longer than I suppose and tiny add-on tasks pop up along the way. I’ll steam along until either it is time to pick up the supper take out or I need a nap.
I am sad and angry. Trying to find thoughts to share but it is all too raw.
I do have three things to share that are lovely things that should not be hidden away because of all that makes me sad and angry.
First, is Julia’s senior pictures. The sitting for these pictures, like everything else that Julia does, was not typical. One of the two photographers who was working that day was immediately sensitive and took extra time and care, trying to make Julia comfortable and trying to capture some of the joy that is Julia. From the proofs, I picked four. One will go in the yearbook.