Library Days: On Natural Disasters.

“We’ve gotta hurry, the librarians are going to miss me!” I say to my someone, cramming my To Return Books and my To Renew Books in the same bag. “And I don’t want to miss him!  He leaves by 10:30, usually,” I add with urgency.

My Someone laughs, but he knows I’m not kidding.  In fact, today my Someone is going to escort me in to fact check my ritual.  He’s not disappointed.  My guy is there, in his regular attire, clicking video after video.

I knew you’d be here! I thought.  I smiled at my Someone, pleased with my accuracy.

Consistency makes the heart grow fonder.

It’s Library Season, which usually means logging my calendar full of due dates and renewals, with a stack of books beside by borrowed room’s bed that dwindles slowly as the time for us to hit the road again approaches.  But this winter is different.  I am not only in a borrowed room, but also with a borrowed library card.  The stack of books is still the same, but the town is different.  I am taking Library Season to a new level of stillness, and have been spending every Tuesday morning here, in a small central California town’s library.  I sit at the same table in the same chair at the same time each week.

I’m not the only regular, though.  Aside from my friendly local librarians, there’s a man in a green track suit with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack who beats me here every Tuesday.  The first week, from my deliberately chosen chair, I had a full view of his public computer screen.  At first, I went about my business.  Public library time is sacred time, I believe, and everyone has a right to explore in the peace of 1970’s carpet and thick wooden chairs without snoops over your shoulder.

Except that he was murmuring to himself.  And then he was laughing.  I glanced up.  This man was watching natural disasters on Youtube.  Landslides.  Earthquakes.  River floods.  Tsunamis.  Again and again, the man clicked, watched, and then murmured.  Back to landslides, and he laughed.

I froze.  I felt sick.  I made involuntary associations with his skin color and terrorism.  And then, I realized, the only act of terror this man was watching was Mother Nature’s.  God’s.  Climate Change’s (ours).  I felt sick again.  You racist asshole, I murmured to myself.  I went back to writing.  Then, with my presumptions out of the way, my curiosity was pure.  I couldn’t resist.

Why does he only laugh at the landslides?

“I can’t believe you two like reading the same things,” my librarian said.  “I’ve been married for 43 years, and we don’t read anything alike.”

My Someone helped me load up my bag of Renewals.  We delighted in the perceived compliment, agreeably.

“And music,” she continued, “you have the music that you share!  All he listens to is classical, and that’s a no go.  I’m really a rock’n’roll gal, sometimes folk– always stuck in the 60’s.”

“That’s a good place to be stuck,” my Someone and I said in unison.  You can’t make this cute shit up.  We all laughed.

While my new Hold books were being located, I nodded my Someone across the room.  My Natural Disasters Guy was finishing up his free hour on the computer.  I was disappointed to not see actual natural disasters on the screen, but instead a close second of horror movie previews, one after another.

I like your friends, my Someone texted me a few minutes after he left me here.

“I try to exercise every day,” my librarian said.  I stopped my pen to listen.  “He hasn’t exercised except after his heart surgery, but then he stopped.  I just think, well, that’s your problem, then.  I can’t make him do what I do.  We are just different, and now he’s paying for it– or at least he will.”

That’s a toughie, I thought, stretching my legs under the table.  My Someone and I walk every morning together, sometimes in the afternoon, too.  We take hikes and sometimes he’ll do yoga with me when he complains too much about an ache in his neck or shoulder.  I kept listening, feeling smug, feeling better, and feeling disappointed when she finished talking to her friend and went to recategorize the New Books section.

Truthfully, my Someone and I have had a tough couple of weeks.  I’ve been slopping through my grief and self medicating with working too much, while he has been haggardly aware, darting, and stressing to deal with his own and mine.  Only in the last couple days have we settled into some sort of lovebird normalcy.  But even in the worst of it, we’ve walked side-by-side every morning, throwing sticks for our pup and taking note of the progress of fruit rotting into the ground in the orchards.

How fortunate.  How lucky.  How much better I have it.

This is crazy, I realized.

These are my natural disaster videos.  These are my replays.  These are my sensors that sit on alert, craving someone else’s story of a life I don’t want so I can appreciate the one I have.  It’s a fear in the brain, a lift from the drudgery of the usual mountains I am climbing to watch the mountain next to mine shake with an avalanche.  I sit and I watch and I am taken somewhere I’m not.  Then I sit back to see my own mountain.  Still a climb, but at least it’s sturdy.  And I laugh.  Maybe it’s relief or maybe it’s malice.  With something of that scale, so unexpected, I don’t know how to distinguish fear from empathy from joy.  I do know that at any minute, though, my Someone is coming to pick me up again.  He’ll see me looking like a normal person, typing at my own computer with a few new books to take home.  But I’m actually just a guy in a green track suit who sits here every week at the same time in the same chair, hitting replay on a two minute clip of an earthquake in a Central California library.

Howling at the Moon: On Coyote.

Okay.  Okay.  Here we go.

I think God might be a Coyote.

In the middle of the summer, I was reading a book that talked about a Native American tradition in which the earth was created, somewhat inadvertently, by Coyote.  This wasn’t my first time reading myths and legends.  This wasn’t my first time discovering a new religion.  But this was the first time, without being told what is true or not, that the information was presented to me and I sat back, warm and cold at once, and thought–

Oh, my god.  This might be God.

In the days and weeks following, I found myself naturally praying to Coyote.  A small miracle, praying naturally.  Or rather, praying at all.

Coyote was floating along on his raft.  He came across a few ducks and called to them–

“Is there only water here?” he asked.

“As far as we know,” they said.

“We’ve gotta do something about that.  You mind to dip to the bottom and see if you can get me something I can work with?” he said.  Of course, the ducks agreed.

Three duck went down and found nothing.  The fourth came back with a pile of mud in its beak.

“This I can work with,” said Coyote.  “And for your efforts, there will be four trials before success in this new land.  Sound good?”

“Sounds great!”

And then Coyote took the mud and created the world.  Trials and all.

You can dig around the internet or the public library for bits of Coyote’s tale, swishing around in matters of making mates from mud for lonely ducks, or being disobedient to his call from the Great Creator and accidentally making Earth and all that’s in it.  He is the great imitator, the great trickster, the protector of humanity and the curator of life after death.  He is all of the things in between, too.  He is likely both responsible for the unexpected house guest you didn’t want and the moment you were glad to have company that same night when you were tossed a bit of bad news by way of a telephone call.

But at the heart of it all, Coyote is in love.  He is in love with you and me, he is in love with the world working itself out, and he is in love with interjecting to make it both harder and easier to become better.

Coyote sounds a bit like Loki.  And a bit like me.  Because the way he loves is by laughing.  Some of his jokes go too far.  And most of his jokes take a while to get.

Coyote is the favorite of the Great Magician/Creator, even if he almost never acts right.  Maybe the Creator knows this and uses Coyote.  If that’s true, then I think that must mean that Coyote’s joy in causing a ruckus is woven into everything he accidentally creates.  Like people.  When The Creator stuffed humans into a bag to be dropped at the far corner of the earth, he asked Coyote to take the bag to its destination.

“But whatever you do,” he instructed Coyote, “do NOT open the bag until you get there.”

“What’s in the bag?” Coyote asked.

“It doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, don’t open the bag.”

“But, what’s in the bag?”



Coyote opened the bag.  He barely made it beyond the first hill.  People went everywhere.  He couldn’t get them back in again– it was too late.  And now here we are, not confined to the cliff of time, but scattered in this wild, watery world.  Misfits and escapees, every one of us, thanks to Coyote.

The Creator didn’t seem to mind.  He delights in us with the help of Coyote by his side.  Coyote, our intercessor, reminds the Creator that we are wonderful, lovable creatures.

What I know to be true of Coyote, as best as I can gather it:

  1. that the world was created by accident, imperfectly, and that every day we are alive, we are making it better.  This is in direct contrast to the idea that we ruined a perfect world and are every day trying to dolefully get back what we lost.
  2. that perhaps we were not made in Coyote’s image, but as a friend of his image– and we, in turn, make friends of his image (or, man’s best friend [does this further explain the extreme reaction of humans to cats?  To worship or to hate?  I digress…]).
  3. that the funniest solution is the chosen solution, should you be brave enough to laugh and let Coyote laugh with you.
  4. That to pray to Coyote is not to first say, “I am not worthy/I am sorry,” but rather… “Guess what just happened!” usually followed by, “How do you think we are going to get out of this one?”  Coyote already knows we are worthy.  That’s why he created us as friends.

I was a fool for him, a regular Jesus Freak of Coyote’s world.  I hesitated at first, but then I found myself leaking my newfound Coyote to my friend Bryan on his lunch break.  My Pad Thai got cold with the love of sharing the Good News–

“And, did you know, that we are not slovenly assholes who messed up a perfect world?  Did you know that we are actually loved?  Did you know that there is hope because there is still a joke to be told?”

I knew it sounded crazy as I was saying it.  I knew that I was reverting back to my days of carrying my thickest Bible around the halls of high school in case someone asked me to defend what I believe.

Except, that it wasn’t like that at all.  I wasn’t on the losing side of a God to make amends with through his dead son (be grateful, you hellbound sinner!) while simultaneously on the losing side of a world I should hate (in it but not of it, of course).  I was on the winning side of a tricky dog who loves without bounds and makes change without stipulations and who was inviting everyone (even me) to come alongside.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Oh boy,” said Bryan, “I do like this Coyote of yours.”

He may have been my first willing convert.

“Heya, Coyote!” the ducks called.

Coyote was on his regular trek through earth, fighting off monsters that we can’t combat on our own, accidentally killing someone from a joke gone too far, and fascinating himself with the movements of creation, imitating as he went.

“Yeah-ho!” he called back.

“We’ve been thinking,” the ducks said, “and talking to the rest of the gang, and it seems like we are feeling like there’s still something missing.  Any chance we could have something else?”

“Oh, this will be fun,” said Coyote, “Whatever you want!”

“Gentleman ducks,” said the ducks.

“Makes sense,” said Coyote, twirling his paws.

“And dancing,” said the humans sunning themselves on the rocks.

“I’ll do you one better,” said Coyote, “let’s make music.”

For the rest of the day, the ducks and lady ducks, the humans, Coyote, and the rest of living creation danced to the sound of music.  Even the plants swayed.

Since our trip to the west this year, Coyote has been everywhere, howling from Pennsylvania to lurking in daylight by our South Dakota campsite to yipping and barking in the California night.  I have been unable to escape him.  The reminder is welcome.

I’ve good naturedly scolded Coyote for his tricks to get the hecklers out of a room.  I’ve yelled at him while my dog laid in my arms, limp with death.  And by the end, he keeps emerging with a joke, with a laugh.  And never a joke at my expense.  It’s the elevated laugh of a creature who always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, who always knows, these things work out if we let them.  Coyote doesn’t fail.  He just has a few hiccups first.  Often four.

While the loss of my own living Spirit Animal roils through me, I keep a small figure of a pink stone Coyote in my pocket.  Maybe it’s my rosary. Maybe it’s my idol.  But the palm sized consolation presses somewhere in the hopeful part of my heart, the part that says he was there waiting for my dog-gone the moment she left me.  Somehow, he’s the only one I’d trust with her.

I sent my friend Bryan a little Coyote of his own.  He doesn’t need it to know we are connected, but it’s nice to know these little Coyote figures are casting a laugh in the distance, connecting their howls miles apart.  Quietly, of course.  Coyote has a way of sneaking in the silence to make it less lonely.

Coyote watched the hawks flying from their trees, swooping to catch the mice below.  He was so taken by the freedom of the wingspan, the sound of their feathers cutting the air, that he climbed an oak up to the highest limb.

Then, Coyote jumped.  Flying was not what he thought it would feel like.  In fact, it felt more like dying.

Coyote lay on the ground, flat with gravity and breathed his last breath.  The birds, seeing Coyote dead on the ground, notified the fox, and they gathered around his body.  They worked their beaks and paw over his body until he sputtered and sat up.

“Come on, Coyote!” the fox said, exasperated.

“I had to try!” said Coyote.

“You always have to try,” said the birds.

“Worth it,” said Coyote.

The fox and the birds like to say they are tired of bringing Coyote back to life every time, but they always leave him with a smile.

“A Coyote who thinks he can fly,” the bluebird shook her head.

“This was easier than the time he drowned for imitating the whales,” said the seagull.

I woke up wide eyed and excited, straight back and peaking out my window blinds.  We were in Nashville, then, and Coyote had been on my mind now for two weeks.

“What are you doing?” my Someone asked.

“I can’t sleep, anymore,” I said.  “I’m too excited to see what Coyote will bring me today.”

My Someone stands with Coyote, but I know he still had a Book of Common Prayer stashed somewhere in the back of his closet.  Coyote doesn’t care, though.  There aren’t any One-Door-and-Only-Ones– there are just those who are laughing and those who are not.  There isn’t even just two sides to the door.  It’s a perpetually revolving door, welcoming anyone to step inside.  You can bring any sacred texts along– anything you can’t part with can come.  In fact, bring all of it.  We have time and time and time again to sort through with a deep curiosity and a smirk.

But then, we are to step outside, eyes wide and mouths open, and send our howls of joy and despair and confusion and delight up to the moon.  The world is a complicated place, where your friends are your enemies and your enemies your partners-in-crime.  When the sun comes up in the morning, we can leave those contradicting matters to nestle in the dark while we see what Coyote has in store for us in the new day.  Because likely, whether you’ve chosen to or not, the revolving door of Coyote has you swooped in.  It’s easier to walk with it and laugh along.

Puppy Love: On Falling Again.

It goes like this:

Every moment is still a grieving moment.  Every moment is still the carrying of what is lost, compounded by what is found, and makes less sense as the time passes.  And then, I find myself on the floor of a hotel room with my pup, throwing a ragged squeaking toy duck across the slick fake wooden floors.  She brings it back in a half retrieve, half cuddle, and I am laughing at her and the pain is easing.

And then the dread seeps in.  I don’t recognize it’s source, but I recognize the feeling.

“Oh no,” I say to my Someone, “it’s happening again.”

“I know,” he says.

Love without a safety net.  Love even though you know it’s going to be ripped from your arms faster than the squeaker from a toy duck in the jaws of an 83 pound puppy.

The sick feeling passes.

“You are going to shred me one day,” I say to my puppy, “But it’ll be worth it.”

She puddles up on my lap.

Love is a bitch.

Burial: On Rotting Love

Mike told me to put all of the love I had for Butter on to my other little pup– the one still living.  I’ve tried this.  But the strange thing about love is, it’s not one size fits all.  Even for two 85-pound dogs, the transference isn’t negotiable.  For the love of all things Butter was the remembering of her fear of plastic bags and that eye contact from across the room could soften to a slow stroll toward each other– or a wink that could have us barreling down a beach.  These looks to my other pup mean something different.  My love for my second pup is only ever growing, but it isn’t the same love.

These days, I wonder what is to become of that love of Butter.  85 pounds of love sitting inside with nowhere to go.  Most days, it feels like it is rotting in there– decaying me from the inside out, unable to be revitalized by the brown eyes of that bullmastiff.  All this love, and I have nowhere to put it.  The grave in the ground mimics the grave of our hearts– the deep holes we labor to create only to house the rotting lot of love we had.  And it is only a hole of bones and skin and memories.  Until something grows again.  But the growing, it takes so long.

Butterdog: On My Broken Heart.

I can’t keep anything down, and my throat hurts like there’s something stuck in it– like I can’t breathe.  I texted my friend Bryan.  I’m not unaware that these are the same symptoms she had before she passed.  But I can’t get my mind over matter.

Grief is a bitch, he wrote back.

Yeah.  Grief is a big brown 83 pound bitch named Butter.

In these days following the day that Butter died, the world became a wash of rain and clouds.  I’ve been grateful to have the world mourning with me– or at least Western Washington.  We huddled in and lit a candle we named for her.  We checked our phones for signs of her popping up in pictures and texts and phone calls.  I became used to our little camper being down to one dog, and then not used to it, then more crying, then used to it again, while not losing the feeling that she is still here.  I wrapped her collar around my arm so I wouldn’t forget for a second that she was gone– so that I wouldn’t have to remember again.  But it didn’t stop me from thinking I heard her moving around this morning on the floor, and it didn’t stop me from mistaking a sheep for her.

Anyone can handle grief except the one in it.  Shakespeare or someone said something like that.  This flashes among the sitting straight up in the night in the middle of long, twelve hour sleeps. It’s like the movies in that the symptoms are all the same– easily Meg Ryan or Meryl Streep could be playing this role.  But I am not watching myself from far away.  I am uncomfortably and inescapably inside.

I took to writing down her names.  I took to zoning out.  I took to watching movies.  I took to forgetting to eat.  I took to holding my littlest dog for long hours.  I took to sleeping.  And somehow, in just six days, this tiny home of ours became nearly bearable.  If we lit the candle in the morning and blew it out at night (Good morning, Butter.  Good night, Butter.), if we laid her blanket at the foot of the bed, if I jangled her collar when the tension was building, I could see how someone might be able to actually live through this.

I became ill two days after I realized she was really gone.

Everybody knows I have a broken heart.

Yesterday we wandered out of our tiny Butter shrine.  We needed food.  We needed fresh vegetables.  We needed air.  We went to the farmers market in Olympia like normal people whose dog didn’t just die and tried to buy things with money that means nothing to us for vegetables that we aren’t hungry for.  I cried when we saw a bin of apples (she always ate my core).  I cried at the stand that sold dog treats.  I bought two because I couldn’t stand the thought of only one, and I cried again.

And that’s when I realized how much work was still ahead of me.  If it took a week to make these small four walls only bearable, cushioning the world was impossible.  I’ll never make it.  I’ll never survive.  All these sharp edges will puncture me.  All these soft memories will suffocate me.

“I can see it now,” I told my Someone, “I can see how people say ‘No more dogs.'”

“They just can’t do it again,” my Someone echoed.

“I just can’t do it again,” I said.

I’ve made a terrible mistake in love.  It’s split me wide open– no safety net, no fall back, no plan B.  I am a cautionary tale.

All of my defenses against this grief amount to nothing but a dimly lit candle almost burnt down, and a blanket that smells less like her by the day.  I was a fool for love, and now love has made a fool of me.  Now everyone knows I have a broken heart.

And I think of this–

A little more than seven years ago, we spotted each other from across the room.  She was coming in from another failed home experiment, I was leaving from a failed attempt to find the one.  When we made eye contact, she pulled my way and I walked hers.  And then she leaned on me.  I looked her soul in the face and hugged her and whispered– You’re mine.  I’m yours.  I am going to keep you to the end.

When I looked at my to-be-first-husband, he replied, “What choice do we have?”

And I think of this–

A little less than seven days ago, I laid my head on her gurney on the floor next to hers.  She pulled toward me, I leaned on her.  Head-to-head while the fluids dropped into her, I told her the story of how we came to be.  Of how two misfit, gawky, graceless creatures found each other and stayed together.  It’s the same story I tell her every year on her birthday.  It’s the same story I tell her after she’s been hit by a truck or gored by a javelina.  It’s the same story I tell her when we’ve become homeless or when we move into a little camper with a new Someone.  You’re mine.  I’m yours.  I am going to keep you to the end.

And I think this–

I would do it all again.

________: On Only One Day Deep.

Tell me what it is I need to do.  Tell me which altar to kneel at, which confessional I need to be in.  Tell me which way to face when I pray five times a day and under what conditions of sunlight.  Tell me who to be good to and where to place ten percent of my income– I’ll pay them double.  Give me every inch of the sacred text with the stipulation of a pilgrimage and thirty unnecessary dietary restrictions.  I’ll study by candlelight and be silent if I have to or stand up when I know I shouldn’t if it’s asked of me.  I’ll fight through every wrung and caste with a glowing goddamn halo and never use the work goddamn again.

If you can promise me in no uncertain terms– no theological possibility, but a real promise, certain as you’ve seen it with your own eyes– that I will see that damn dog again, it shall all be done.

Mystery Songs and Tactless Jokes: On Listening (For Better and Worse).

I fell in love with a song I didn’t know back in July.  It was when we found ourselves at The House on the Rock in Wisconsin– a rich man’s ploy to turn his home into a stage.  It’s packed with the largest carousel in the United States and a creepy doll museum and self playing instruments you spend your tokens to play songs from the 1920’s through the 1970’s.  It is the Disney of the underground.  The epic, disastrous playground for the lovers of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, roadside stands, and kitsch.

It took us three hours to get through– and we glided quickly through the circus section and skipped the history of flight museum entirely.  And we were euphoric.

But before our heads exploded and our senses retreated from the over-stimulation, we listened to a player piano play the loveliest song I could imagine.  We hummed it the rest of the way through the House– past the larger than life sized squid fighting a whale, through the displays of hot air balloons, past the calliope and the recreation of an early 1900’s village.  The song persisted.

We sang it that night over dinner as we sat staring into the woods, trying to process all that we’d seen that day.  We sang it the next morning when we woke up.  I took to the internet a couple weeks later when it still hadn’t left my mind.  I asked my social media for answers.  I got, in return, several pretty songs and a couple of voicemails with my Someone’s mom and another friend’s mom singing me their guess.  They were all wrong.

But it was so nice to be listening again.

With all of my flashing screens and passing highways, it had been a long time since I had been enamored.  It had been a long time since I called out a question and waited for an answer.  It had been a long time since I sat, waiting to listen.

I have been working lately to put down my flashing screens.  I have been working lately to sit still breathing while I wait for food in restaurants and for my gas to pump at gas stations.  I am failing.  But when I do remember, it’s as if a small part of my life is returned to me.  The part of my life when a radio song can make or break the ride to school.  The part of me when the sound of a V-8 engine rolling up the driveway could make my stomach rumble, because it meant that dad was home and dinner was ready.  When I can remember to listen, I remember to live.

It’s a little like praying.  Except I am not sweaty and scared of not getting an answer from whatever still-small-voice everyone else hears.  The sound of the gas pump clicking off is answer enough or a plate clinking down on the table is answer enough.

The first problem with listening, though, is that it also causes me to fall in love.  Like when I am stirring a sweet-and-sour sauce on the stove before our show, and the whisk rushes around the bottom of the pot.  I am willing myself to not touch my phone.  I am willing myself to not look out the window for my Someone.  I am willing myself to only stir.  And then, the thin swirling sound suddenly changes.  I look at the sauce, and it is amazing.  The whisk is resisting.  The sound becomes deeper.  The sauce thickens.  And that is when I fall in love.  By merely staying still and listening, I have heard transformation.  I have heard ingredients become sustenance.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this miracle?  How does the sound of a whisk in a thickening sauce pot not push out a hundred other sonic memories?  And all this before dinner.

It tasted pretty good, too.

I had been calling House on the Rock for months, getting voicemails once a week from Jenny, who had the list of the songs the piano played, who just needed to get in touch with me to give them to me so we could be done with this ordeal.  But then Jenny was out sick.  Then I was in a show.  Then the phone lines weren’t really working.  Then dozens of flashing screen reminders to call.  Then frustration.  Then almost giving up.

Here is the other problem with listening.  It leads you to a lifestyle of persistence.  Once you let that song in, you also let in the sound of the trains going by at night that suddenly feel like they are about to drive right through your camper.  You also let in the joke that didn’t feel like a joke by your Someone.  And then, you let in the small talk of a cashier in Boise, who is taking your exact change for four postcards.

“Actually, I don’t need a bag,” I said, pulling out a penny to complete the transaction, “Or a receipt.”

“So, don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, “but you’re easy.”

The other woman behind the counter laughed.  I looked down.  What’s confusing is that, once you start listening, you start listening to all of it.  You listen to the man behind the counter, you listen to his smirk, you listen to his unnecessary qualifier, and you listen to the pulse of blood that sounds like embarrassment come to your ears.  You stop laughing at the jokes that didn’t need to be jokes because you listened to the jokes– and they are an echo of a long line of jokes made to make someone else laugh at the expense of pointing out something about you that may not be true.  You listen to all the laughs that happened in your whole 31 years about your sexuality.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this heartache?  How does the sound of an tactless joke not conglomerate with the hundred others and swallow you up into a burping, sloppy mass of despair?

I decided I was done listening for a while.

But then this.

Jenny called.  I called her back.  She gave me the list– the list!– of all of the songs.  Some of them were already familiar.  But I put them all in my own list, downloaded on my flashing screen device, and kept them there for a couple of weeks.  The mystery was nearly over.

We left Boise.  We drove for a few hours to Oregon.  I looked at my flashing screen instead of the sunset.  I closed my eyes instead of opening my ears.  I holed up in the misery that listening makes.  Forty minutes outside of Pendleton, my Someone asked for music to keep his own eyes open.  I put on the list– the list!– and sat back.  I wasn’t really listening.

“I don’t think it’s on here,” I told my Someone vaguely.  “I think she gave me the list from the wrong player piano.”

“Yeah,” my Someone said.  We were mostly through the list, and the rest looked mostly familiar.  I closed my ears further.  I watched the dark mountain range get taller.  I sunk lower.

“What?” I said, not really listening.

“The song!” my Someone said.

“What?” I couldn’t remember what we had been talking about.  So I sat up.  I opened my ears again.  I saw the light of the town come into view from the top of the bypass.  And I heard Gladys Knight croon out the fluttering second verse of the Song.  I had nearly missed it!

“It’s my Song!” I said.

“It’s your Song!” he said.

We listened to The Song.  We listened to a second version of The Song.  We kept listening in disbelief that we had finally, after nearly four months, found The Song.

It was over.  The search was over.  The mystery was done.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this happy and sad?  How do we keep on living when every memory has to, at every new memory, be pushed and carried to another place to make room?

“Help Me Make it Through the Night.”  That’s the name of the song.

Like Riding a Bike: On the Second Time Around.

I used to know how to ride a bike.  I didn’t just used to know how, it was actually all I would do after school and throughout the summer.

I’m not sure when it happened that I forgot, but it happened.  Not in a wobbly-starting-out-but-even-out-by-the-tenth-pedal sort of way, either.  Somewhere in the seven years between my senior year of high school and my first year of marriage, I was falling-down-every-five-or-six-feet-in-the-street sort of forgotten how to ride a bike.

Everyone says you never forget.

Everyone says it’s just like riding a bike.

Seven years ago today, I was on my way to my honeymoon suite with my first husband, where we would fall asleep, and I would wake up with a swollen ankle from dancing too hard at my reception.  I would also wake up with a panic, realizing I had made the biggest of mistakes.

Three years after that, I would forget how to love.

A few months after that, I would fall in love again.

I shouldn’t have been so worried.  It’s just like riding a bike.

If I Can See It: On Doing It.

“I wish I was an artist,” I told my Someone.  We were admiring the graffiti in Laramie, Wyoming.  We are always taken by graffiti.

“You are,” he said.

“But, you know, like a real artist.”

“Like a painting kind of artist?”

“Yeah,” I said, “like a real, pull out a canvas and make something visual artist.  Like a real painter.”

“Then maybe you should start painting.”

Staging Grief: On Anger (again and again and again).

We are already picking apart our little camper, already finding the ways in which it has been insufficient.  We are already pointing our fingers at the lack of extra battery we’ve done fine with, and the low water pressure shower head that’s done us well, and the lack of space to walk around in which we’ve figured out a nearly flawless system of sitting down and standing up to avoid stepping on dog ears.  We are working on our anger so that we can let it go.  We are trying to get angry at our imperfectly perfect home because we just learned about a four season camper that will be even better.  And the only way one can truly believe it will be better is to gather a little amnesia and a lot of hostility toward the thing that is sitting right in front of us.  Or rather, the thing we are sitting inside of.

And anger always does the trick.

“You know,” I said to my Someone, “when I am dead, you are going to be so mad at me.  You’re going to be so mad, you are going to forget that I was actually great.”

“I know,” my Someone said. “But who says you are dying first?  How do you know I won’t die and you’ll be mad at me?”

“Because you wouldn’t dare.  My anger would be so fierce it would raise you from the dead just so I could kill you again, I’d be so mad at you.”

He laughed.  I laughed.  Likely because we didn’t think it was true.  We couldn’t imagine being angry with each other when the other was gone, because being angry would mean we were trying to move on.  And I am not so certain I ever would.

I used to believe that anger was something that came from a distinct moment in my childhood.  Something suppressed, something wild that hadn’t had the chance to be fully expressed.  In my early twenties, I kept digging back and back to find the one thing.  For the last decade, I was able to be justifiably angry at my parents and my old friends, my high school and my ex boyfriends, my dead dogs and my dead grandparents.  But I am coming to realize that with every little thing we lose, there is anger.  And we are always losing.  It now looks like a miracle that for all that we lose every day, every moment, that we are not perpetually in a state of anger.

Or maybe we all are.

There is a songwriter who lives in North Carolina who is one of the last overtly Christian artists I can stand to listen to.  And when she sings songs about coming to the table and being baptized, my insides moan and wail with the nostalgia.  By the end of the record, I am simultaneously soothed… and then angry.

“It seems so unfair,” I told my Someone.  We were parked in a lot in Minnesota, and finished listening to her record again before dinner.  “It seems so unfair that she still gets to go home.”

And that was when I saw it there, laying in the bottom of my emotional cup.  The last wriggle of anger drying up.  The last pitiful eye roll.  My years of being angry at God (and the years that may still be coming) weren’t wasted.  They were a coping mechanism.  I wasn’t angry that there was a God, or if there was a God.  I wasn’t angry that he did or didn’t love me.  I wasn’t even angry if he did or didn’t step in to save or ruin my life.  I was angry that for all my own praying, for all my songwriting, for all my seeking, I found that the robe didn’t fit.  It was too small.

I started to cry.

And my Someone cried, too.  And then I cried for my childhood bedroom– the one that’s been painted over. The one I was angry with when I would return home from college.  The one that I was only angry with because I knew that I couldn’t ever really go back to it– not just because my parents told me I couldn’t, but because I just. couldn’t.  I had moved on.  I was a grown up.  And the 101 Dalmatians theme didn’t fit me, anymore.

This didn’t mean I would never have a room again.  It just meant I couldn’t have that room.  It was time for someone else to occupy it.  And the anger propelled me healthily into adulthood.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll never have a God again.  I just can’t have that one.  And my anger has propelled me healthily along.  I wouldn’t be happy squeezing into that robe.  White just isn’t my color.  Even with a few altered dalmatian spots.  And now, I can be happy for the person occupying what I just can’t, anymore.

In the last couple of months, we have been angry with our ex Best Friend.  We have chosen to remember the irks and the aches that he caused, instead of the things that kept him our friend for ten years.  In this way, we have been learning to move on.  In this way, the anger has moved us on.  What is difficult to see in this scenario is whether the anger is showing us who he truly is, or if it is only muting who we know he truly is.  Either way, I am a bit grateful to the anger for its rapid healing process– its steady trajectory toward new friends, new late night phone calls, and even a new home for our hearts.  The startling openness that anger creates in its wildfire blazes, not another path, but every path.  And we have looked out on the charred field with steady heads and heavy hearts.

When it all grows back, it’ll be a different place.  Some of it may be the same, but most of it all new.  And that is when the amnesia begins.  The wonderful, welcome forgetting of what it was like to be burned.  All this, all this could not be possible without the cleansing– without the clearing of the landscape.  Baptism by fire.