I don’t mind rolling out to the garden to have a look at things, but I do mind the desperation. It is as though the lettuce and spinach and brussels sprouts, all rain-dappled and sparkling, contained the only life. Jane’s comings and goings these days, correspond to the coming and going of my spirits, an unaccustomed level of dependency, embarrassing even to consider. So it is. In the garden? Well, whatever it takes, I say. The garden, a roll to Trader Joe’s, Peet’s. If life seems to ebb at at home, enlarge the definition of home. Go out, decide out is in, and don’t worry. Or so I have decided on this particular day, at this particular moment.
Yesterday, in another moment, Paul the weekly volunteer, and I journeyed into the center of town, stopping at the Romanian hardware store…and lingering. Which I must appreciate about Paul. A 30-year-old guy, dropout from graduate school, affiliate of the Catholic Worker House…the very name of which provides a shot in the arm, echoes of Michael Harrington and all…who is on a spiritual quest, Paul is. How I figure into this odyssey is unclear, but ours is not to reason why. Ours is to pull into the nether reaches of this wildly overcrowded emporium, shelves jammed with one of everything, in search of organic fertilizer for my garden. In spirit, this is a 19th-century general store. There is virtually nothing one cannot buy. A cruet for salad dressing. A battery booster for one’s dead car. Nuts and bolts, nuts bowls and deadbolt locks. And, yes, in this nether reach of the place, about one meter of garden fertilizer.
As one expects, the opportunities for specialization are few. It is a miracle that there is any fertilizer at all in between the rat poison and tire irons, and to expect natural, organic garden products, all biotic and everything, well that is a bit much. Thing is, I am armed with Paul. Who has slowed down his external processes enough to crank up the others, the result being a leisurely and attentive rifling through of the uppermost shelf, the one not only beyond my reach but well beyond my sight. Paul extracts a colorful plastic bag, the ingredients revealed to be as organic a fertilizer as one could find anywhere, the likes of ground chicken feathers, eggshells and so on, not to mention bacterial spores…the latest in natural agronomic theory…and the direct result of slowing the pace, reducing the anxious, background activity level. And soon spread across my garden, awaiting the next stage, the most reliable, rain.
Which I used to enjoy. Everything about it, the watering of the earth, the revitalizing of the arid California lands…the annual mystery of whether the nurturing drops would come. They have come, and they are what they are, cool as early spring is cool. The mountains laden with snow. Not to mention the garden. The lettuce would not be as crisp, nor as plentiful, in warmer weather. It is a time of cool bounty, yet for the first time in my life, I keep pricing flights to Palm Springs. Mazatlan. Somewhere fairly close and very warm. A significant shift, and attributable to…age? Or anxiety.
I put on warm socks this morning, or Jane did, but the impulse was mine. A splendid one, particularly for me, kind, gentle and not stoic. Just in case this neurologically numbed quadriplegic body was feeling colder than it knew during my between-rain sorties into Retail Land. Hard to say, but the only measure is home. There is only one. How it feels, how cozy things are or aren’t, that is the measure. Much be said for being at home in the home. Snug. Just as the concentration of ground up slaughterhouse components, when spread upon the garden and deftly worked into the soil by Paul, give off a certain acrid, familiar scent. Remembered from my childhood? It has that feel, something that goes way back. Perhaps a pleasant memory of my mother in her element, which was the garden, not the home. And for a moment the possibility of a cozy spring indoors, however anxious, and the desperation to get away from California weather, of all things…good to see that on mute.
It’s coming up, Paul observes over coffee and bran muffin in the Boulangerie outlet just up the street. This with reference to the anniversary of Marlou’s death. I anticipate this date with conscious relief, for the conventional wisdom is that the whole thing takes about two years. After which, well, things are better, if not over. The prospect of the latter exerts great power. How nice to be over such a thing as grief and what goes with it, the horror, reality shaken down, primitive anger and fear circulating like blood. Yes, I tell him. And how do I feel about it, he asks.
I don’t really know, that is the answer. Time has passed. Things are different. It was a garden day, after all, 2 April…the incoming crop providing then, as now, diversion and a reminder of life. Sunny. Late afternoon, and the neighbor’s little boy making noise. Of a most refreshing sort, anything for life. And then it was over, and one year later it was still over and still becoming, while Marlou’s hard cremated granules poured from a box as her mother watched, supervised. That’s enough, she said. The certainty and mystery of this statement still echoing. And now it is another year.
And remembering, or not forgetting, has become optional, an act of will. The fear, Marlou’s terror, that is what I remember now. Even then, I thought, well, maybe there is a better, more conscious way to face this. But it was my feeling, not hers. She had the real thing, mine the observer’s impression. Fear, the most instructive kind, is optional. There is always distraction. Tomorrow and tomorrow. Until there isn’t. Until there is a brick wall across the road. So while the vista seems limitless, the challenge is to remember the wall and its hard, cold surface. Where things end. And let it be, as Paul McCartney once said. Let it be.