This being human is a guesthouse…
It was probably the last day of sun before a string of rain days descended upon us, but on this day Spring was decked out in her softest and sunniest white, pink and purple ruffles and her youthful joy just made me all the sadder.
Oh, my love, it is best for us to part. It breaks my heart and yet it must be said.
That was the gist of the letter I’d just read again before sending. It had been on my mind for days, no, weeks, and in some way maybe even months. This was not a surprise of a letter to anyone, which didn’t take away from my sadness.
When I awoke the next morning, Regret and his brother Doubt were standing at my door, anxiously shifting their weight from leg to leg, weary from their travels through the night. Barely the door was open, they hurried into my living room.
“You spoke too soon,” said Regret.
“You don’t really want to lose him, do you?” added Doubt. “You sure do love him. Look at your puffy eyes, would you? Oh honey…”
His voice trailed off and a heavy silence descended upon the house of me. They are right, I thought.
“What a good guy,” said Regret, looking wistfully out the window.
“You certainly could do worse, you know. What a find he is. I mean, was—” Doubt piped in. “He spoke your dad’s language. Remember how you practiced German with him on the dock that day last spring, sitting on the piano bench in the fog with a blanket pulled around you?”
Regret, still looking out the window, added: “You were planting a garden. How could you leave when you were planting a garden! The baby basils were just becoming toddlers—“
I nodded. A set of furrows was settling itself into my brow and a huge lump had lodged itself in my throat.
“And now you’ve gone and lost him. Just you tell me where you will find another chap like he.” Doubt spoke with such old-fashioned grammar.
Minutes later, another knock on the door. I peeked from behind the curtain to find a youngish woman who looked like an over-caffeinated step aerobics teacher from the 90’s with her hair pulled back into the tightest of ponytails. Her shirt said, “Ain’t nothin’ can’t be fixed!” and her shirt sleeves, rolled up to her armpits, gave brand new meaning to “rolling up one’s sleeves.” I do not know how her tight ponytail allowed for even a hint of movement in her face, but she managed to raise an eyebrow while glancing at her watch, then knocking again.
When I opened the door, Ms. Fixit’s knuckles almost rapped me on the forehead, and then she marched right past me, brushing Regret and Doubt aside.
She unzipped her backpack in the middle of my living room and tools of every size and shape spilled out and a hundred bolts of advice went rolling across the floor. There was, “You need to see him. Like now!” And, “You need to stop wanting so much.” And, “You should take the train up there now and fix this. Here’s a schedule.” And, “You should try couples therapy.” And, “You shouldn’t be so bossy–”
That’s when I found my voice. “Excuse me very much, I shouldn’t be so bossy?! Pot ‘n’ kettle, hel-loh!”
She just rolled her eyes, flashed me a “whatever!,” and picked up a tool that, sweartogod, looked like a machete and a hammer and a chainsaw all in one.
Around then was when the movies started: a year’s worth of pictures, snippets of conversations, voiceovers and commentaries on various fight scenes, love scenes, hope and dream scenes, all began scrolling across my mind’s eye, ending, finally, with last Friday’s skype-call with the coach lady, the call that had mainly succeeded in reminding me of just how hard our hard stuff was. Afterwards he had texted me: “I’m going out for a run,” and I had texted back, “A run sounds good. Me too.” And then, without further ado, I did. Go running, that is…
All the way to Whole Foods. All the way to the chocolate-covered almonds that sugar-free-me justified by pointing out that they were made with fruit-sweetened chocolate after all.
The movies left me feeling like my heart had plunged down an elevator shaft into my belly. Someone coughed and that’s when I noticed Rumination running the projector from a chair over in the corner.
Rumination had the longest, most ancient looking of faces you have ever in your life seen. Seriously, his eyebrows had grown so long that I’m quite sure his eyes had only a vague, ancestral memory of sunlight. Also, earhairs? Put it this way: there were no ears to be found.
Blame and Shame did not want to be left out of the sadfest and, sure enough, by midday these two rolly-polly ladies with waggy fingers and not quite securely anchored false teeth had arrived carrying casseroles. (What else!)
“Dahlin’, you’ve gone and lost the best thing ever. You’ll never find better,” muttered Blame as she waddled into my kitchen. “You are a piece of work and you know it,” she went on, taking a red Jello mold out of Shame’s hands and proceeding to cut it as if it were cake.
Back in the living room Shame started in on a long list of thisses and thats, all preceeded by the words, “You are too…” while Blame kept muttering, not enough under her breath, that “no man would want that in a woman…”
My cheeks got redder and redder and it was all I could do not to cry.
“We should know, shouldn’t we!” exclaimed Blame, looking over at her sister. Shame, the quieter of the two, nodded.
“We’ve held onto our men for, oh, what is it now—eleventy hundred years?” Blame went on, proudly. “Oh how time flies when you’re bound in holy wedlock.”
It was the word “lock” that brought me back and I glanced around at the motley crew in my living room. And just when I thought it could not get any more crowded one more guest arrived.
Panic was out of breath when I opened the door. And also? Terrified. The end of the world was upon us, after all. His vocabulary was very limited and pretty much all he managed to say was “On no, oh no, oh no,” which he chanted like a mantra gone awry, all the while pacing about my living room wringing his hands and then smoothing back his hair with a sweaty palm. He knew my deepest fears and managed somehow, in spite of not being able to stand still for so much as a second, to lay a slew of pictures out on the table before me:
There was a snapshot of me hungry and alone… another of the Aardvark leaving me and going back to Africa… another of Heidi’s Table failing disastrously, my appointment book completely empty… another one of never another kiss, ever… culminating in the predictable—Urgency School of Redundancy trained as he is—clincher: a framed 8 x 10 of me dying a godforsaken and lonely death, alone, with nary a soul around.
What a state the house of me was in. And, whatever was I to do with these guests! I did not like them and yet there they were, all doing their best to, from their point of view, help me.
With my heart still in my belly and that lump still in my throat, I walked over to the window. That’s when I noticed her. She was sitting in the big white Adirondack chair on my porch, smoking.
I know, right? Smoking! On my porch. The nerve!
I was about to go out and yell at her but something kept my feet glued to the floor, watching.
I was still perturbed when I noticed that the smell wafting in through my window was not of any cigarette I’d ever smelled. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was a cigarette. What was it, Sandalwood? Cedar? Definitely some Clove. Yes. And something a bit citrus, a bit floral…
I sank into my senses and inhaled deeply—Bergamot! Of course. And something else I hadn’t yet managed to place when she took her last drag and, letting out a loooooong exhale, slowly began turning her head—
I could have ducked but it wouldn’t have mattered. She knew I was there, I could tell, which was confirmed by the fact that she did not even so much as almost blink when her eyes rested on me.
I could not look away. Her face was forever wrinkled in a way that made me look forward to one day being that old. And her eyes were the most curious blend of calm and attention. I could tell that this woman never missed a beat and that nothing ever ruffled her. I wondered if she’d always been that way or if it had something to do with the wrinkles.
She looked at me with kindness, without even a hint of pity, and in that moment I saw myself and the motley crew in my living room through her eyes.
When I turned my attention back into the house of me, my guests were different. No one had left, and yet they had changed.
Regret had found some watercolors and was painting what looked to be an herb garden.
Doubt was talking philosophy over a glass of port with Shame, and in the kitchen I could hear Ms. Fixit and Blame tidying up. Ms. Fixit was saying that there was nothing better than waking up to a shiny sink, and Blame said, “oh, our Heidi could certainly use a little shine these days.”
Panic and Rumination, thick as thieves, were plotting techniques for making a new movie from the footage and photos they had. Rumination wanted some kind of a film noir, and Panic wanted some sort of a mystery-drama.
They were all fine.
I looked back out and the old woman nodded and motioned toward the empty chair next to her. I went out to join her and we shared a smoke. And then I cried and cried. She didn’t mind.
~ * ~
“Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”
– Leonard Cohen
Thanks to my guests, clearly I’m all set on the advices! But if you care to share a cry or a potion-smoke or a story with me here in the comments, I’d love that. I’m still hangin’ out on the porch with this curious old woman. Turns out her name is Ylang and she’s related to Presence, the hot bartender at The Pause. *ahem!*
Also, gossip alert! I just learned that Presence is their family name. When I asked Ylang about Presence, the bartender’s, first name, she told me she had been sworn to secrecy. Whatever the name, I am so taken by them all that the Aardvark and I have named a potion for them. Go ahead and guess what it smells like! (And, yep, you can get it over here).