I leave Fort Bragg in a tiny boxcar Honda with passengers Super Dave, his "girlfriend" Theo, and Lilia driving. It’s SD’s 47th birthday and he’s already drunk on bourbon, but wastes ten minutes finding a handmade metal hair pin to give to me. He tells me it’s been used to stab two people, which should come as a comfort to me.
We drive the windy highway out because the other highway (nearly as windy but a bit less) is closed due to flooding. SD’s voice is four times louder than a tolerably loud voice and he keeps repeating that it’s his birthday and everyone lights up a smoke after SD shows Lilia and I his collection of fat joints that smell of weed fresher than anything the east coast will ever know—not that I smoke because I don’t, but I’ve smelled the shit.
The roads wind, switchback and swirl through the redwoods. Oaks, thick with lichen not yet in bloom, litter the roadside. Theo (a friend of Lilia’s) tells me that the Willows have just begun to bud and I see their lime green tips whirl up in a sea of evergreen. It isn’t enough to say this area of the world is beautiful. SD says that the peat covered trees and the redwood forests, the deep cutting valley’s and jutting hills look like a certain cover of the Hobbit, which he’s read nearly forty times. It is magical, breathtaking, unreal, akin to the coastline in Mendocino County—a strange and foreign beauty.
The day before I left I spent an hour out on the bluffs, alone. Walking over the small footpaths of the bluffs, I stood for short moments looking out at the unreal sea. A seal bobbed in the tide, birds lifted from the bluff grasses, the waves roared up against the rocky coast that year after year recedes—perhaps not because of humans, but because of the moon and the tides and the way of the world—the part of the world that goes on understanding its wholeness, unbroken by our human ways. I went out on the wet rocks of Glass Beach, watched a dog wade through a tide-pool, felt the cold wind run off the ocean, salty, stinging. G told me later that she was addicted to this coast, to the bluffs, the wind, the fog that rolls in every afternoon. It puts a part of you to sleep, shuts down the part of me that busies, that worries, that frets and fills with fear. The calm is both a sorrowful emptying of time and the joy of that clean abandon. A speechlessness and a softening that opened in me the small holes where my own unborn dead live.
Mama Sally said that you live with that loss until it becomes a part of you and you grow a garden in the empty space. Loss, for me, has a surreal nature. It is speechless, timeless, and something you cannot process fully in your mind. Loss courses through the body; it is carried and woven into the fabric of your daily being. The process of healing is something one has to figure out how to trust; I had to accept that I didn’t understand how my losses would and did affect me. I couldn’t always write them away, read them away or especially, talk them away—though talking is my primary method of healing.
Being with Claribel and Georgia, being of service to this sweet mother and child, opened in me a love and a longing. It reminded me that all my closest friends live away from me, but it also let me remember how deep the love between my close women friends and I really is. It isn’t a love I can share with my husband or my parents. It is a soulful love that comes from knowing that a force greater than can be explained has put me in this room with this dear friend and her child, has given me this journey of being present at the birth of a child and of watching this mother fall instantly in love with her baby. A child tears you open. It makes you into something you never knew you were capable of being. You never imagined.
Super Dave sobered up a bit and his voice dropped to a more reasonable volume. We talked about his two children, his travels, how he walked to South Dakota last summer to support MS—which his daughter was recently diagnosed with. Lilia—ever maternal—kept us all safe and sound and right on time.
Back in Vermont I slept for five hours. I cried and my husband tried to comfort me, familiar with this part of me that cries every time I return home. I tell him how we must leave, how I must be near my family if we’re to have a child. He tells me I’m in transition mode, brings me orange juice, makes me eggs and toast. Tolerates my concerns about how the plants aren’t watered enough, the rug looks dirty, the apartment is too small and we need a couch. We go to dinner with an old friend and eat rows of delicious sushi.
Now it is Sunday and we’re at Radio Bean coffeehouse. Josh and I sit reading and writing while “Old Time Session” plays old ballads and folk songs—two banjos, a fiddle, a piano player. It’s freezing here. But the sun is out. Spring will come in a month, well, a month and a half for certain. We’ll survive. I’ll put on an extra sweater. I’ll wear my long-underwear. I’ll turn up the heat.
I’ll dream of the sleepy, dreamy, subterranean coast, of little Claribel Lolly’s soft cries, her mama’s smiling face. I’ll think of Georgia’s friend Maureen and her baby Carolyn, and Maureen’s little used bookshop. I’ll think of the birds lifting from the bluffs.
Tom Banjo is singing now, a goofy old tune. There is a little one year old child stumbling around the floor to the music and two grown men squatting down with him, encourage him. Soon he’ll start in singing “One Meat Ball.” Soon we’ll go home, fill the day with reading, waiting for the warmer days. Dreaming of the nether worlds of future-present-past; mending the tiny garden, sewing its tiny seeds. Missing you.