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Bug builds a nest by the sliding glass door. A foam mattress from his old bunk bed serves as a wall. He hauls in a heap of blankets and a camp chair. “Dogs and kids only,” he tells me. He fits a bag of soil into the nook by the wall to block the entrance.

Nestled in under a table, he listens to an audio book whose plot I can’t follow. Islands, magic, a group of children, danger. Noodle is splayed out in the sun next to him on an old Oklahoma Sooners blanket.

I replace the busted bike tire and air up the tube. One load of laundry whirls in the dryer while another hangs in the sunlight on a rack in my bedroom. The pots and pans are done, but the breakfast dishes haven’t made their way into the dishwasher yet. That’s Bug’s job. He can tackle it later.

The tea kettle gurgles. I pour steaming water over tea bags. Decaffeinated black tea for Bug, Bengal Spice for me. I dig through the recycling for the two old egg cartons. The packets of new seeds are waiting. Perennials this time.

Bug acknowledges neither the milky tea I slip into his clubhouse nor the the basket of pencils and markers. He pretends not to notice when I sneak off with the sack of soil.

Splayed on the kitchen floor, I rip the tops off the cartons and use a sharpie to mark the sides. Thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage. Each tiny seed falls into an almost invisible divot in the dirt. Dormant, they nestle in under a thin blanket of soil. I soak each pocket with a soft drizzle from the sink sprayer. The cartons sag until I fit them into their inverted lids.

The sunlight slices a long triangle into the table by the sliding door. I step up on a chair and stretch over the mattress wall. A swath of Bug’s blonde head peeks out from under the table. He’s leaning back in the camp chair using a marker to draw a battle scene with towers and little people dropping rocks on their enemies. He’s painted his fingernails purple. Noodle’s eyes twitch towards me but she only sighs and closes them again.

I slide the seeds into the sun next to the snap peas and spinach, their first threads already climbing towards the light.
 

She was single when I met her. We danced with the drag queens at the gay bar that used to be north of town. We cut pictures of beaches out of magazines to make vision boards. We ate blueberries at the omelet restaurant on a sunny winter morning and carved pumpkins in a neighbor’s back yard the next fall. One New Year’s eve, we stood in a circle and dropped in one word we’d like to invite into our lives. The next, we hooted and played as the ball dropped.

We’ve never done any of these things alone together. She lives in one of the outer rings orbiting around me. I suspect I orbit a little further out from her. She’s just so much more connected, so much more vibrant. She has a bright smile and and slaps her leg before adjusting her glasses when she laughs. We always greet each other with a hug.

We are friends through friends, spurred by proximity and the bountiful event-planning of our more social girlfriends.

Her tight circle, the close-in one, is well-populated. This seems to be the case for many women I know. I tend to float around out on the edges of knots of friends, going on hikes alone and showing up at the contra dance or zumba class after months of absence. This friend is more like my sister, who has always been so good at weaving elaborate social ties. Mine are individual threads. They are strong in their way, but not braided together — Grace and Mina and Loki are all my girls, but Grace and Mina and Loki don’t know each other.

I know I bring on this drifty distance by my choice to savor solitude. As a result, I never have any expectation that the circle I inhabit is close to the center. When I find myself in intimate connection, I recognize it as a rare and fleeting gift.

This girlfriend? We’ve known each other four years now. She’s getting married in May. Her fella also has a big smile. He’s funny in that after-a-beat way. They have a kick together. They cook, they travel, they have big families in the area, all part of an even bigger community of loved ones. When she talks about her wedding planning, she sparkles even as she rolls her eyes at the wackiness of it all. They are mapping out the celebration of the life they’re building together. In little slivers of conversation between improv games or Mary Kay samples, she shares a detail and a giggle with me.

Even as single and solitary as I am, their fun doesn’t make me ache. They are lovely in their goofiness, and she is clearly having a delightful time in the world she now inhabits with her fella. Truth is, strong friendship ties and a caring intimate relationship are two things I’d like to cultivate in my life. It’s nice to see two folks sharing their hope and good thinking. It reminds me that a person patches a vision together — like anything else — one stitch at a time.

This is acceptance. It is so very grown up.

Then I open the mailbox.

And there’s the invitation.

Equanimity, meet Glee.

Completely, joyously unexpected. With all the other people they keep near, it never even occurred to me that I’d make the cut. Invitation lists are impossible. Family is always first, and the rest of the guests must be limited to the dearest ones. I remember how much it stung when Tee and I looked closely at our rings of friends to determine who we could and couldn’t afford to include.

Somehow, this girlfriend decided I could be a part of their celebration.

I’m not sure what I did right, but I want to do more of it. I feel so totally lucky, loved, and excited. It’s not just an invitation to a wedding. It’s as if she’s slipped into the envelope this tiny golden key and said, “Here. Welcome to the circle. Come in when you’re ready.” It’s up to me to step over the threshold and take my place in the waiting warmth of the friends already right here in my life.

I circle the square on the calendar. May 24. Between now and then, two full pages filled with squares.

Every one, a day waiting for me to draw myself in.

Every one, a chance to be the friend she’s inviting me to be.

To be deep in the overwhelm requires not just doing too many things in one 24-hour period but doing so many different kinds of things that they all blend into each other and a day has no sense of distinct phases. Researchers call it “contaminated time.”

– Hanna Rosin, “You’re Not as Busy as you Say you Are” at Slate.com

I click send on a project that’s consumed most of the morning. Before a sense of pride dares peek up out of the foxhole, another directive slams down from above. In an email, a whole group of colleagues receives word that I will provide them with a collection of updated materials by Monday. I’ve been copied in on this but not otherwise warned. At least seven major deadlines are breathing down my neck, and they all come between now and the start of next week.

Aside from those concrete projects, the inbox is spilling over, three people are waiting for replies to pressing questions, and a series of delicate emails is in the queue. These will undoubtedly trigger frustrated comments and several more rounds of correspondence.

Numb to every bit of it, the only approach is to keep moving. I open the folders and start to plow through the documents.

Then I stop.

What happened to what I just finished? All that work, and that’s it?

Click, then gallop on?

We rush from one demand to the next, never giving ourselves time to pause when one task is complete. Many of us don’t celebrate our significant achievements, let alone our everyday ones. We may mark milestones when large public hoorays are called for — retirement party, anyone? — but in our headlong race forever forward, we fail to keep our eyes open for smaller signposts of success.Hell, this year my birthday came and went all but unacknowledged. It stings if I think about it, but who has time for thinking?

So this time, I stop. Only for a moment, I turn and walk over to my office window. The one small project I completed this morning took quite a bit of creative effort. It was, in fact, a noteworthy application of skills I’ve grown over 4-1/2 years at this job. A small smile warms me. I whisper to my quiet self that I just whipped out a bit of handiwork I couldn’t have conceived of in 2010. That is really something.

Across the hazy March sky and the greening city below, my gaze dips and lifts. The National Cathedral stands on the horizon as it always does. The scaffolding is off the towers. The branches of its neighboring trees are still bare. A little light scratches across the rooftops and then disappears.

Just one small slice of pride.

This is my gift. Overdue, but so very welcome.

We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie.

– Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

The sun rides in on the back of a fierce wind. Even though the equinox is just days from now, this taste of spring will slip away again tomorrow. Thank goodness. Winter is much safer.

The inevitability of change is worrisome. Buds unfurl and something in us pushes open. That something undoubtedly lacks the social grace to wait for an invitation. Who knows what will shatter? What will bruise? All of this is in the service of “growth.” What seems so lovely when talking garden metaphors is brutal when ripping old scar tissue to realign poorly set bones. It’s all a matter of location and scope, and so much is out of our hands.

I step out onto the scoured mud of the battlefield. The gusts whip through my hair. They bend the dog’s leash into a bow that moans like a cello string. I did not expect this violence in the air. We walk anyway, all 5 1/2 miles of swamp and field, in the last of winter’s glare. The dog leaps after grasshoppers, burying her nose in crackling grass.

With every step into relentless headwinds, I make my plans, rehearse my lines, catalog the tasks undone. Each thought is a scrap of debris stuck to the walls of my skull. Eventually, I remember to let the rushing air scrub the hull clean. I have to remember this over and over again.

The dog trots ahead, snuffles in damp leaves, falls back, prances up onto a berm. With one a paw raised, she surveys the thrashing field, alert for predator or prey in the brush. Down in the low wet, peepers sing and sing.

The sun creeps across the celestial equator. Under the vast and rippled blue, I walk blind into the next churning eddy. My skin thrills at the prying insistence of those gusts. Light snakes in under collar, hairline, wrist.

I am not ready for what’s coming.

I stride towards it anyway.

I gulp it down.

I howl back in its face.

Snake Oils:

Fret about it
Complain about it
Excavate the underlying cause
Make another promise
this one, really
Mop the house
Dial the number
Detail the feeling
Eat
Facebook
Sidestep the feeling
Itemize the failings
File the taxes
Register for classes
Rearrange the closet
Rewrite the resume
Revise the story
Make soup
Start sourdough
Start seeds
Regret the follies
Rehearse the maybes
Cry
Run
Gaze up
Stroke the dog
Squeeze the kid
Write on a blog
Disappear into
Page
Body
Voice
Breath
(No
Not even breath)
.

It may take months
trying every tincture
to ease a tired
so deep it
leaches marrow from bone,
thins tissue
to husk
shedding away from the once wet
core,
years even
to absorb
the stripped bare
lesson.

It is the single
remaining
vial
the message a fortune
as maddening
and true now as it was
in infancy
as it always only ever was.

The only cure for exhaustion
is unbroken silent eight-hour potion-free
rooted deep held in night’s
annihilating arms
sleep.

It took two injuries in three days.

For an hour, the floor became the only place I could safely be. My Mister, mother, and boss all encouraged the recline. Horizontal I stayed. They helped me to bed. Eventually, I hobbled to the easy chair. With laptop. With novels. With quiet punctuating the growl and jabber of construction workers welding outside my window. With the first birds of spring punctuating the quiet.

This is not a familiar mode. Stress begets sweat. When the engines are firing — even more so when they are flagging — the default setting is to slam the heavy bag or pound the streets. Dance, climb, lift, go go go.

Not now.

Now it’s this: Two howling muscles on the right side — lumbar and erector — keeping company with the perennial scapular pain.

Now this: Only stillness.

Sleep comes. Caffeine goes. Sleep comes harder. Eight hours. Then nine, then ten. I struggle upright through a fog like rheum, fumble for the Advil, then surrender again. Flannel sheets. Sweet relief. An afternoon nap gives way to a labyrinthine descent into oblivion.

Three days of sleep nine years overdue. Sleep I haven’t know since Bug put down roots in my naive womb.

It took two injuries.

It shouldn’t take even one.

This stillness belongs.

I inch open the door. Who knows the cost?

Welcome. Please come in.

Please stay.

Now let’s stop all this talking, and let it fill our ears


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So were you happy? I was happy. You still happy? Yes, and you?
Then more kisses! Why’d we stop them, when a million seemed so few?

– Kris Delmhorst, “Galuppi Baldessare” on Strange Conversation