Maybe the talisman doesn’t save us after all. Maybe something suitable just happens to be within reach at the moment we need to be saved.
When it comes to rescue, coincidence can look a lot like fate.
Several months ago, I “threw my back out.” An uber-intense workout involving a particularly brutal instrument of torture called Jacob’s Ladder twinged something in my lumbar region. Within hours, pain immobilized me.
The three grown sisters are in the kitchen attempting to make the cranberry sauce. “Where’s the zester?”
“Just use a grater.”
“Don’t give me ‘just.'”
“I don’t know how to work this food processor. Where do I put the stuff in?”
“Here, geez. Snap it like this.”
“But how do I get everything back out?”
“Just use a spatula and scrape it into the bowl!”
On the stove, the berries are boiling hard. Sugar in, orange zest in. Their mother is back in her bedroom “resting.” This is code for preparing for the next bout. When the avalanche of family has pushed tempers to their limits, napping is the only way to re-boot. I have done so twice already today and Bug is back on his little pile of blankets right now taking his siesta.
We started out the day at the local Y. The nice man at the counter must have seen the desperation in our eyes. He smiled gently as he handed us a week guest pass.
“How much?” I asked, reaching for my wallet.
“It’s on the house,” he whispered. “Merry Christmas.”
Bug climbed non-stop in the Adventure Zone for kids, I shimmied in a mega-Zumba class that had three rotating instructors and took up the entire gym, and my dad fought his way onto an elliptical for some hard sweating. The place could not spare a single square inch for stretching. Every medicine ball had been claimed. We were not the only ones looking to pump endorphines into our systems to offset the pre-Christmas crazies.
Naps and exercise are sure bets, it seems. At least until we start drinking.
People enter and exit my grandmother’s house in threes and fours. The front doorbell rings then the sliding glass door squeaks. More cousins and uncles. Unfixed dinner plans. Re-routed afternoons. We crowd into the breakfast nook and leave the sprawling rest of the house unoccupied. “Why does everyone always sit in here?” Bug asks. “That dining room has a lot more seats.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Anyone?”
A cousin shrugs. She is tucked into the corner in a low chair. “Because this is how we have always done it.”
Three bottles of wine are on the counter.
The wheels on the ancient drawers scream in protest as an aunt digs in the back for missing tools. My mother is on her knees in front of the buffet. Her head is halfway into a cabinet searching for a China bowl which may have been here once. She pulls open a drawer, looks in, and sighs.
“Well, here are the candles I was looking for.” She still has not found the bowl. She glances up at me typing here in the dining room and narrows her eyes.
Inside the gray morning, a storm churns. No one looking down from a weather balloon would ever know. Calm skies lay a low blanket of mist over this patch of concrete. Upstairs, my boy dreams on. He will wake on his own and climb into my arms so I can carry him down to our waking day. For this singular pleasure, I continue to press my weight against the porch step. I jump skyward straight up from a squat 20 times over, roaring past my own screaming heart then begin again once the stars dim.
Inside the neighbors’ homes, small thunderclaps fall on deaf ears. Who would know? Secrets, stillness, fury, love. White lights twine around poplars and oaks dotting the unfenced green. In the low dawn, other women walk their dogs at a racer’s clip or jog in nylon sheaths. I wonder who these people are. Even the ones whose names I have learned over wine and block-party gossip are exotic, sleek-billed things. They married the ones who became captains and commanders. Very few of wives themselves hold such sway. They feather their nests and pine for more yet seem to possess a knowledge that eludes me. Gloss and curl, breast and fawn. Perhaps just dumb luck? Whatever the code, I have not cracked it yet. I rely on pulse and sweat. I bend and crunch my belly, powering the core which sustains me. It is, after all, the only one I’ve got.
Next door, the couple stands bickering over the placement of a red bow on the new porch light. She wears the teal track suit, he the familiar scowl. The stout pillars of their new portico twinkles with lights. Their long-legged girls soar past on in-line skates, hair swaying. The silent distance of proximity has me hungering and recoiling. What quiet thunder brews there? Any? None? They have lived here since the girls were toddlers. I have never seen the inside of their home, yet I long to inhabit it, whether it be the shelter or the storm.
I lunge 50 times on my patch of damp concrete. I get to 51 and keep going. Past 75, past 100. These thighs will never fail me. I will climb the stairs. I will scale these walls. I will leap over rooftops, up past the front that taunts us with its constant pressure and threats of deluge. Up into clear skies this surging heart will carry my boy and me, winging us into the place we are meant to be.