I’ve got you covered, I want to say. Or perhaps I want them to say it to me, the fava beans, the cover crop greening and swaying in the 72°F globally warmed February sun. Who could keep away? It is the center of this day’s universe, my nearest raised bed. I can feel the agrarian tension. There is a race on. An annual one. Cover crop versus sprouting vegetables. They’ve all had an equal go at the sun. I am watching carefully.
The spinach sprouts are utterly lacking in common sense. On a day like this, it is time to wrest one’s cotyledons free of the seed husk, get on with botanical destiny. And grow, you suckers. There’s only a week, no, six days before the garden crew arrives, pitchforks ready, and whatever the fava beans have accomplished, well, that will do. Greenery buried, roots exposed, little layer of steer manure on top…and damned if I won’t have another year’s garden. This time, totally defended. Let the local mutant squirrels try to get to my lettuce seedlings, and all they will find is bird netting. I can see them jerking to a halt. All squirrels do, in fact, is jerk and halt. That’s what you get for being a rodent. You get something else for being a lettuce. Culinary opportunity. The chance to drape your leaves like a ballet dancer over the wooden tongs of my salad bowl. It’s not summertime, or even spring, but the livin’ is easy.
Living isn’t easy, of course. That is the point. If there is a point. But for now pointlessness will more than do. ‘The King’s Speech’ still occupies me, more than a day after I saw it. And what I saw in it? A man with a sort of disability. Endlessly disappointed in his own efforts to overcome his limitations. A man whose human connections have grown out of thin soil, and are hard-won, painfully maintained. In short, a man who keeps persevering, somewhat drained by his own weltschmerz. His strength praised by others, unacknowledged by himself. Whose defenses are natural and massive. Requiring constant effort to dismantle. As though this film was conceived from me. Which of course, it wasn’t. It was conceived for all of us. The king being an archetypal figure, that which is superior in people. The quiet, painful struggles of a man who had to seem loud and show no pain.
The most maddening part of my days generally comes in the mornings. My alertness is low, but demands are high. I keep dropping things, that is the worst. And so it went this morning, me trying to get done with the bathroom and out to meet the arrival of Team Filipina’s morning representative. The tasks were driving me to madness, as is the usual case. When I did something unprecedented. Looking at my own reflection in the bathroom mirror, seeing my hand rise to my face, I watched. As I gave myself a caress on the cheek. Just to see what it looked like, something gentle and soothing, however absurd and auto-directed. Paul caressing Paul. Utterly embarrassing to observe, let alone describe. Apparently narcissistic. Yet just the opposite. Compassion in self pantomime. It will do.
* * *
The thing about mornings is that they keep happening. Take this next one. It has taken me. By surprise, actually, but my 5 AM eyes had popped open like, well, Popeye. And there I was, practically counting the minutes, until I was up, slipping on my trousers and jamming feet into sockless shoes. And off. And damned if it wasn’t there, the rosy-fingered dawn. The pinks and orange stark against the sky, something that reminds me of Amtrak trips. Plucked awake at odd moments in odd places. And this sky is so complete, the sunrise not growing, but hanging, without shadows without anywhere to go but away. I stop on Live Oak Avenue, aware that the morning light show is not only temporary but inconveniently timed. I haven’t seen the sun rise in these parts since…no one can say. My view takes me diagonally across a block. I see the sign of the Mermaid Motel for the first time from this vantage point. It’s there, whether witnessed or not.
With breakfast completed by 7:30 AM, Menlo Park’s main street seems unprepared for itself. No one is buying bagels at this hour, the bagel staff still sliding patio furniture into place on the sidewalk. Parking is plentiful. The homeless woman, Mad Mary, is not pushing her shopping cart piled high with blankets of the sort movers use to protect pianos. She simply strolls down the street, belongings somewhere else, and surprisingly spry and fit. Oh, what a beautiful morning.
It is at home that the beauty fades, of course. This is a Sunday morning, Jane at work, and I am on my own. Strange, for having spent so much of a lifetime taking care of myself, now one morning on my own seems a gross injustice. It is the contrast. The caressing hand of a woman, then no woman at all. I have told myself, actually lied to myself, that it’s all going to go swimmingly and swiftly. Parts of it do. Showered and out in the globally warmed day in record time. I even get socks on both feet within an acceptable frame. It all goes wrong with the shoe and leg brace, me asking why, why, why? I wedge the foot in place, grab the velcro strap and attempt to rotate the thing into position, thereby inadvertently twisting my arch in such a way that nothing is going to enter this shoe. I stare at the mess.
Somehow, that is what it is, my limb, almost a foreign object. Attached to me, yes, but as much an appendage as an integral part. Heavy, frequently swollen, always paralyzed. And now not easily jammed into its plastic home, the brace. I remember. I place my hand on the side of my face, fingertips awkwardly finding their way into a caress. It was utterly beyond my mother, this movement, this gesture, this touch. I am 64 years old. Almost done reading the Anger Management book. Almost done with everything, but not quite.