Ladysitting (Pt. 2)


Saturday evening, as Irene rolled through, sprinkled gray and blowy, and the threatening dark sucked into it the last hope of vesper light, trees began to throw their heads back and forth.  We insisted our daughter come home earlier than she would have liked.  I’d talked to my sister earlier; they were holed up in Martha’s Vineyard, storm vets and not afraid.  My mother was with our cousin in the Bronx; my father and his girlfriend had water and a plan for the basement; our older daughter in Vermont had texted to check on us.  So, we walked the skittish dog, locked the door, closed windows, dragged mattresses downstairs, and went into a fitful sleep, waking through the night, checking the windows, listening to the storm.

On Sunday morning, when the rain stopped and the cool wind blew through us in gusts, it felt like late September or early October, like the day when I was about nine and ate the first bowl of split pea soup for the season in my grandmother’s den.  Time shuffles itself with invisible fingers of memory, and I realize that I want to write about our lives together with my grandmother in light of her last year and a half, when she lived with us.

In his sermon at Evening Prayers, Bob said that for people who love the water and live next to it, there’s always the threat of storm.  When he said it in the small blue-and-white chapel, my mind saw our favorite beaches and walks and bird sanctuaries by Cape May Point; then I saw the swirling icon of Hurricane Irene on the newscasts.  That’s the way it feels to love people.  You have the delight and comfort and ease of love—and then, as Francis Bacon said of taking on a wife and children, you’re given “hostages to fortune.”

When I receive acupuncture, sometimes grief surprises me. Dr. Nancy Post will insert a needle for pain, and tears will slide out of the ends of my eyes. I am like Dostoevsky’s organ stop.  Just like that.

“Why?” I ask.  “Why am I so sad?” Who am I asking?

Like standing water in the basement, grief pools around knotted muscles and organs. I bail in my sleep and do not let myself know.  But in the quiet after Irene, I feel it:  the swirling, flood-storm of mourning that blew through, and then the gusts.  Now two years later, I hope that if I do not stop the process, there can be, there will be, a slow, drying out.  Grief has puddled in my body.  Writing is the practice that lets me express it.

Bob put up the feeder this afternoon.  I saw the hummingbird waiting on the forsythia for me to leave the back door so that it could feed in private.  At a Harlem Book Fair panel, Marva Allen of Hue-Man Bookstore asked about our next projects, and I said that I didn’t know.  I’ve wanted to go to live and work in Ghana, to visit the forts, to smell the inland, walk the beach to learn the other side of the Middle Passage.  I want to research Harriet Tubman in New Jersey.  I want to learn about filmmaking, if I’m not too old.  And for two years I’ve been jotting scraps into a file and titled it from a phrase our daughters used for caring for my grandmother.  Writing’s not worth it for me unless I pick the right topic for the particular moment in life.  I did The Price of a Child when I was pregnant with my younger daughter. And If Sons, Then Heirs after running a non-profit business.  As I watch the storm water recede, I know it’s time to begin.  The girls used to say that they were:  Ladysitting.

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