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“We are continually shaped by the forces of coincidence.” —Paul Auster

A nurse with a tidy, silver bun introduces herself and leads me into a little, curtained room. She drops a plastic bag on the bed where I will place my clothing after I’ve changed into the soft, hospital gown with the pastel pattern and the ties in the back. She is wearing a snug-fitting, lavender nursing outfit with pink, Puma sneakers. Her top has a band that snaps at the neck and leaves a little opening of skin in the front above her chest. 

Her necklace lies in the bare space and its shape reminds me of another piece of jewelry I recently noticed. It was worn by a woman who I sat next to in meditation on the day leading up to my surgery. She placed a large, rose quartz wand on the table in the center of the group pointing it toward me and when we were finished she offered me a piece of dark chocolate in a shiny wrapper for grounding purposes. She explained how the circular, bronze-toned pendant hanging from her neck was filled with intricate, geometric figures. The patterns within were each meant to correspond with the body’s own unique, inner geometry. 

Afterward, I sunk into a fluffy chair, holding a warm cup of tea. My friend who invited me there, sat across from me under a giant image of a white bird painted on a wooden board with words written across its wingspan. This sky. This sky where we live is no place to lose your wings. So love, love, love. 

Among the many things we talked about, there was one image that stayed with me. It was the vision of what happens to a caterpillar when it transforms within its cocoon into a butterfly and how first it must become within its container, like soup. The caterpillar then completes its metamorphosis into the colorful, flapping magnificence for which it is known. Even beyond its opulent contribution of beauty, the butterfly goes on and works diligently in its vital role in our ecosystem. 

The nurse’s unusual name, Sabrina, her presence and the details of her life seem strangely familiar. The story of her seven brothers and two sisters and the family compound on Mt. Desert Isle. A former life as a heart-transplant nurse. Her ex-husband, an anesthesiologist, who she said would have approved of the team caring for me. 

There is an overlapping texture to the details about her when I recount them now, as if something has happened twice. It might just be a remnant from all of the drugs. Or maybe there has been a blip in my experience of time, an inexplicable glimpse beyond the usual, linear way of seeing things. Or, I may just be coming late to the realization that Sabrina was possibly the same nurse who helped me a year and a half ago when all of this began—with the removal of a bleeding, milk-duct.  

I have a small scar where Jonah’s first tooth landed repeatedly when he nursed. He never bit me, but his tooth would rest in the same place again and again until after endless hours of nourishment, he finally wore through my skin creating a small hole. It was painful and brought on more than one bout with mastitis. I imagined it would be something I would remember intensely. And yet, it only rose to the surface of my mind with the appearance of blood in my bra.

If I compressed my breast in just the right place—in the way I used to in order to begin a flow of milk—a single, crimson droplet of blood appeared. It wasn’t clear where it was coming from which seemed to be a good thing, the absence of a sinister source. Keeping an eye on the area seemed reasonable. 

I did not worry. I withdrew my mind from this part of my body. I considered the experience evidence that most alarming symptoms amount to nothing. I was resolute in living with as few visits to sterile rooms as possible.

A radiologist slips through the curtained entrance and shares her plan to inject dye into my breast. I assumed all of the painful things would happen while I was already under and in the operating room. Sabrina had already injected anesthetic into my hand, so she could be rough with my tiny veins and, we could still be friends. Now more bee-stings.

The hot surge of fluid enters and then dissipates three times and then on the fourth the needle seems to stretch out long and pierce all the way into my chest cavity. When I flinch, the radiologist comments about how inexplicably one of the shots always seems to be more painful than the rest. She just never knows which one it will be. I’m not sure what to say. I just release Sabrina’s poor, flattened hand, which she’d offered to me and I’d taken.

Operating rooms do not appear in reality in the way they seem on television. They are more crowded, overflowing with equipment, and at the same time kind-of bare, like a very clean garage. Besides the acquiescent posture of lying on your back while everyone else is bustling around you under bright lights, your perceptions are skewed further by the quick absorption of drugs, drunk up by your veins as you are wheeled in. 

A see-through green mask is placed over my nose and mouth. I am invited into the brown eyes of the anesthesiologist as he leans over me. The picture on his ID reflects a much younger version of himself. The horseshoe necklace my surgeon wore when she came in to see me earlier is nowhere to be found. I remember considering the paradox of her chosen pendant, knowing how little reliance on luck exists in her profession. I can’t see her, but I might hear her. I’m inhaling deeply now a breath of vapors that will transport me to another realm. 

My first awareness of a return to consciousness is a swell of nausea coupled with big, wet tears pouring down my cheeks and a small sob caught in my throat. Like the rebound from a hard, double-bounce on a ping-pong ball I reenter the world, slammed back in like a rag doll. My eyes resist opening, and I am perplexed as I swim around an odd interior, spinning with darkness and the presence of this unexpected, emotional release. One of the nurses says to another, they did a lot in there, as an explanation for my blubbering. I can’t quite put my finger on what I’m feeling. If I had to name it, I’d call it grief.

The nausea has its grip on me as I travel home along dizzying, country roads. The sky is grey and overcast but all the variant shades of green have finally blended together into one vibrant line of emerald, like velvet, soft along the horizon. I’ve got my head propped on my arm, so I might escape my terrible predicament through sleep. Every time I begin to drift off, I jolt awake, my arm collapses, my head spins and my stomach threatens to empty. I think I might need to lean forward and grab the tubular, vomit bag in my purse that the nurse gave me along with my refilled, Styrofoam cup of ginger ale. 

The front garden is wet, fuchsia azaleas and lavender petals brightened by droplets of rain, the Buddha statue like a fresh, clay sculpture. I make my way into the house through the garage and open the freezer, grabbing a beaded, ice pack prepared in advance. I place my purse on a bar stool and bee-line for my bed upstairs.  

I stop in the laundry room to retrieve the freshly-washed, floral pajamas gifted from my friend. She knows, from her own experience, I will need the button-up top. I try to fit the petite sleeve over the mammoth, hospital bra strapped around my bandages. I give up, trying to imagine how they got me into the velcro contraption without my participation. 

The ice fits nicely into my throbbing armpit and rests across the front of my chest. I’ve poured myself into bed, feeling nearly liquid, like the caterpillar in the thrusts of transformation. I fall into a deep and resounding sleep.

The window in our bedroom is cracked open, its evening. Except for a soothing, drizzle of rain everything feels so still and quiet. I hear the click of a car door through the window and suddenly downstairs the doorbell rings repeatedly in the way only a child can announce their arrival.

The hum of parents talking softly travels upstairs along with a few notes on a wooden flute. I’m surprised no one stops the impromptu tune. It’s a sweet sound and I think about how Adrian’s teacher recommended this particular model instrument because of its gentleness on the ears.

Jonah crawls slowly into the bed with me, creating a wide circle to avoid any tender parts, ending with his face near mine and his legs sprawled out behind him. Adrian stands, balancing on the wooden edge of the bed frame hovering over me. We put our faces together. I tell them how well I am. They share their delight at having experienced many of their favorite things, all in one day. They smell ripe from food and fun and earth, leaving me as abruptly as they came to be cleansed and to collapse into their own, bed nests.

I sleep for much of the next day, sinking into the splendor of rest without qualification. I only get up to eat raisin bread delivered by a friend and to change-out my ice pack. Around mid-day, in a dreamy haze, I vaguely hear the doorbell ring, but ignore it. When I come downstairs a few hours later I see a vase of flowers wrapped in plastic sitting on the porch. I’m careful to open the door without knocking the delivery over and also not to stretch the underside of my arm. I use scissors to slice through the plastic and reveal a colorful display of flowers, so well-arranged they could be artificial.

Upstairs again, I venture to start a very small and light load of laundry and look at a few papers on my desk. The doorbell rings again. I walk slowly down the stairs, careful to maintain my balance and notice a woman through the glass in the door who is unfamiliar and holding something bright in her hands. I wonder if she might be selling something, although it is so rare to receive unsolicited visitors at our house, down at the end of a peninsula. 

I open the door in my mismatched outfit with the new floral pajama bottoms and still with the same top from the previous day. The woman standing there reaches her hand out and shows me a bright, orange, silk butterfly perched on the end of a metal stick. She explains how it was supposed to be included in the original, flower delivery. She has driven all the way back out to our house to make sure I received it. I tell her it really means something to me that she made the extra effort and that the butterfly arrived. I especially liked that it arrived, separately. 

I close the door, walk over to the counter and place the ornament in the vase, noticing the way the butterfly matches the lilies. I go back upstairs and climb back into my cocoon, wondering what it all means.

“Time is the soul of this world.” —Pythagoris

A miniature moose has gone missing. His coat is sandy brown with short hair and he boasts wide, stiff antlers and good posture. He is different from his (apparently) younger brother who is more-flimsy with soft, chestnut fur and cuddly antlers. Jonah notices that I managed to lose the elder of the two native-to-Maine creatures. He grins, implying some meaning in what Adrian has cast as the older of the pair unknowingly tumbling from the passenger side of my car at some unidentified point into who knows where while in my care.

I suspect behind his indignation and with the aid of budding maturity, Jonah is using humor to ease Adrian’s suffering over my poor performance as a nanny (and mother). To be fair, I had remembered to gather the furry brothers in the early morning, placing them at the top of my overflowing bag so that they would be with me all throughout the day and therefore at school pick-up in the late afternoon, as requested. 

Adrian picked them out in a tiny, local hotel gift shop a few weeks back. If you find something you like in this quaint and untended room with the lace curtains on the faux windows you take it to the front desk to make your purchase. We’d just eaten a buffet lunch and allowed for an indulgence in a mammoth slice of lemon cheesecake. I took a spoonful of whipped cream off the top of Jonah’s piece and shook it into my coffee. I could taste a hint of lemon mixed in with the cream and the bitter beverage brought over by a waitress with bright eyes. She wore a French braid that arched around her head like a pretty crown and her face lit up when she recognized us as familiar patrons.

We have no fewer than one hundred thousand stuffed animals in our home. Well, maybe not quite that many. I might have rejected the recent purchase if Adrian hadn’t offered to pay with his own money and also if the deluge of fur babies we own were solely appreciated as decorative or played with only briefly and then forgotten. The reality is quite different. Most, if not all, of the stuffed inhabitants living with us have names, a date of birth (with a solid memory of from where and when they arrived, much of which I have forgotten) and a firm place within the tribe.

Fruit is a favorite, a gorilla that can fit in the palm of your hand, about the size of a hamster if it were standing upright. Like the Travelocity garden gnome who pops up in vacation photos across the globe, Fruit has made appearances in many of our travel albums. This isn’t to say that it is all that hard to make the cut when considering who gets to go along. There were nine stowaways on our recent journey to the warm island with the gently-lapping, aqua water and a breeze that lifts worry like the Earth lifted from the back of Atlas.

Puppy belongs to Jonah and has been made to be real in the way of The Velveteen Rabbit. We recently came upon a photo from when he was new and white and soft looking. He is a dusty gray now and rough to the touch, his fur all curled up and stiff. He once fell into a mud-puddle in Queens and we all rushed to wash him. When I come across him on Jonah’s bed, I pick him up and examine him, remembering. It seems as if he represents something, as if he is a symbol of change, of the passage of time—an emblem of what we blissfully believe will never happen.

I’ve been retracing my steps. In the bagel shop I ask the cashier if anyone has discovered a stuffed moose in the parking lot in the last few days. Before I can finish explaining she goes running to a back room where another worker says they have a lost-and-found. When she returns empty-handed, I am filling a cup with a dark roast. Pushing down on the dispenser, I listen to the squishy, hissing sound of the carafe emptying.

The cashier is familiar and cheerful with a ready smile and exceedingly eager to please. She is very thin and speaks with a raspy yet slightly high-pitched voice. Her mouth is turned upward and yet there is a hollowness behind her eyes as if she is in pain, perhaps physical pain. I imagine the enthusiasm she so readily offers outwardly circling back around her and wrapping her up like a grandmother’s quilt in a healing embrace.

“So there is someone out there missing a moose?” she asks.

I tell her the story about the brothers with the antlers. She says she hopes we will find the missing animal in such a wistful way that I know she really means it. I recognize that she herself has likely lost things. Clearly, more important things.

At the library, I am directed to a box in the corner that represents the lost-and-found and is piled high with all manner of winter wear, although mostly what I see are gloves. I hesitate to dig through the pile given the stench of wet cotton and wool, but decide I owe it to Adrian to make sure his moose isn’t hidden somewhere in the sea of left-behinds. 

Children have a way of leaving a trail of belongings in their wake. It takes many years and hundreds of thousands of reminders to attach material items to children. I kind of like it this way, knowing that a period in life exists in which humans do not give so much value to things. I appreciate this blip of time when the opportunity to be and to play supersedes any real attachment to material belongings. That is except for when it comes to the creatures that children decide to love. Toward these things they give immense value—as they should. 

I consider visiting the gift shop again and buying another moose and trying to pass it off as the original but decide not to. It feels dishonest and Adrian seems to remember that the big-brother moose was the only one of its kind. I also wonder about the habit of fixing disappointments and consider whether allowing this one to exist might be an opportunity for strengthening resilience and the ability to respond to loss.   

A few times when Adrian has cried in the last few weeks—likely, tired or hungry—he has explained that it is because he is missing his moose. I both believe him that he is experiencing the sting of loss and I also smile inwardly, knowing how briefly he had been acquainted with this particular stuffed friend. We also manage to laugh together a little when he equates a song of longing on the radio to his longing for his moose.

He’s careful not to blame me but he also points out that he has lost not one, but two important things recently.

It wasn’t long after I lost the moose that I lost the watch. It was a preppy-style timepiece with a green and blue striped strap. This old-school Timex with actual moving hands also, unfortunately, belonged to Adrian. He had been (uncharacteristically) conscientious about not getting it wet and handed-it-off to his aunt who then handed it off to me for safe-keeping. I tossed it into a cloth bag I was carrying that folds up and snaps into a tiny pouch. 

When I empty the bag, the watch is nowhere to be found. I retrace my steps, like I had with the moose. It isn’t hidden underneath the chairs where we were sitting. It isn’t rolled up within the layers of clothing I was carrying. In both cases it seems as if the items have disappeared into thin air and I do not have the sense that either one is going to turn up again as things sometimes do. 

A few nights ago, Adrian called me into the bathroom where he was taking a bath and asked me for a wash cloth. I grabbed one off of the shelf and tossed it into the tub thinking he needed it to wash. He was taken aback—he hadn’t wanted for me to get it wet! He needed it to dry his hands. I got him another cloth and placed it gently on the side of the tub. When I came back into the room again a few minutes later to check on him, I saw that he was sitting upright—his trunk and arms fully dry—holding a book up above the water, and reading. 

He likes to read in his bed, too, and is currently immersed in a collection of books by Roald Dahl. The stories are challenging to him with their complex tone and dark humor and difficult vocabulary. He likes for me to be near him when he reads these books. I’m lying beside him while he is propped up on his stomach. I am observing his lips as he just-barely mouths-out the words that he encounters, not speaking them aloud. He turns and asks me if he can keep going beyond the chapter he’s finished and continues on before I can answer. 

A lantern-shaped light is attached to his white bedframe and a little shelf above his bed where he keeps a pile of books and an array of smaller stuffed animals and a journal where I request that he write one sentence each night about his day. He writes funny things, like, Jonah is awesome, spelling awesome in just the way you might think a child his age would. 

The light is shining on his skin in such a way that I can clearly make-out peach fuzz on his upper lip. I am admiring the way his eyes appear golden and taking in his long eye-lashes. I remember about how he told me his eyelashes bumped into the lenses of his sunglasses because they are so long.  

He lets me rub my finger across his cheek, too engrossed in the story to be bothered. I let him pile and bounce his legs across mine while he reads. Every now and then he stops and in a flurry of words he describes what has happened in the story. He shows me the pictures, too, and tells me about when the characters—and the author—have made a mistake. 

The house is finally still after a whirlwind of overlapping encounters with winter’s harshest microbes and all that is intrinsic to the human condition. Some of it is beautiful and golden, like a painted sunrise. Some of it throbs and pulls at the heart like punch in the jaw. All of it threads together the remarkable narrative of a strange and sometimes-conscious species.

A sideways downpour of thick, wet snowflakes has turned to a steady deluge of rain. The wind casts about tree branches and pine leaves, periodically delivering large gusts and a sudden pounding of droplets—a lively, rapid drumbeat on the roof above.

Spring is a season of anticipation—a time of listening for the ephemeral whispers of what is to come. If you can become still—still, enough—you might perceive what has been holding you.  

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“If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?”—Neal Donald Walsch

Jonah and Adrian have been coping with the heat these last, sweltering days by spraying each other down—fully clothed—with a garden hose left out in the driveway.

When water hits the blazing pavement they marvel at the steam rising-up from the surface, transfixed by the chemistry—radiating heat mingled with a cool stream.

An aqua and yellow wave-board becomes a shield—blocking water shot forcefully in a front-yard battle between brothers. Shrieks of laughter and withdrawal and the pounding sound of the hose turned to jet hitting the board emanates like the call of wild birds across the still, quiet landscape.

They look for rainbows in the places where the sun’s radiance intersects with mist and Adrian calls to me—from outside into the house—elated by what he’s seen.

I wish that they might always care so much to share with me about what they’ve seen.

I try to understand how the mind works and construct a future scene-of-them—two, grown men eager-still to share about the things that stir them—the places they will be drawn to—the people—the ways of being in the world that I have yet to know.

I imagine intersecting with this vision of them on another wave in the swell of time.

I sift around my being for any evidence that I can—even now— remember them in this way.

Running inside, they leave footprints on the wood floors and scoop out ice from the freezer carrying it back outside on a makeshift tray.

Delivering it onto the hot surface, they dip their bare feet into the place where it is quickly beginning to puddle and watch as it begins to disappear.

They argue about who has had a longer turn with the hose and ask me to be their referee.

Sometimes I try to decide what is fair—making a judgement and enforcing it. Other times I encourage them to figure it out themselves. Occasionally I will approach them—bringing them to the ground in a seated circle—and engage in a more nourishing exchange meant to soothe tensions all-together with reminders of who they are to each other.

I am always reminding them of who they are to each other.

When I arrived at the soup kitchen, I signed-in, grabbed an apron and asked the supervisor how I could help.

As she started taking me to the back, storage area, I kind-of-wished I’d waited around the serving-line where I hoped to be placed. Instead I found myself walking into a labyrinth of boxes and rows of shelving units filled with a plethora of donated food needing to be sorted and stacks of paper products, plastic utensils and containers strewn about.

As I began moving boxes from one room to the next where the contents would be put in their right-place, I assumed I would be there for the entire shift.

I thought about how I had come there to help—whatever that looked like.

It was a familiar job for me—like the work I had done when I helped manage a large endurance event in New York City and was responsible for keeping straight all of the medical supplies supporting thousands of participants.

There were two teenage girls who I would be working with in this task—one with a warm, wide-open smile and sparkly eye-shadow, the other more-sullen and with a sharper way of speaking.

People donate a ton of tea to food pantries—and canned pumpkin, and artichoke hearts. I imagine it is what they find in the depths of their pantries when they feel compelled to give.

I came-upon multiple boxes of coffee filters and smiled when I thought about how I had been using a paper towel for a filter in my coffeemaker at home for several days because I kept forgetting to buy more.

After chatting about what-went-where, the girl who seemed less-amicable mentioned that she would be doing this work for two days straight. She did not seem at-all happy about this fact.

I didn’t make the connection at first and just as I was asking her why she was there for an extended time, it became clear that she was fulfilling a community service requirement prescribed by the courts.

I’m just a normal teenager—there’s nothing wrong with me or anything.

I said something about how one way or another we are all just learning—I was there volunteering because I believe people are inherently worthy beyond their circumstances and I certainly knew there was nothing wrong with her.

I wasn’t so sure nothing-was-wrong or that she knew her own value but I was certain of her worth.

I wished I could have offered her a glimpse into some of my less-than-stellar life-experiences to put her at ease—to let her know that she was far from alone in her misstep—whatever it was.

Any one of us could pull out a long-list of all of the ways in which we might have done better at some point in our lives.

I thought of Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

I knew better than to try to share a quote with her in that moment or to convince her of anything so we moved-on to the paper goods area where she put her hands on her forehead—overwhelmed by the mountain of products.

When I suggested we combine like-with-like she seemed to agree that was a good idea and took over from there, ignoring any further suggestions I made.

Her friend smiled at me sweetly from time-to-time.

It seemed like we had been working for a long while when the manager came back and asked if any of us would be willing to come to the dining room and keep track of the number of trays being served that evening.

I was surprised when I entered the steamy kitchen and saw that the food had only just-then been placed in the serving-line—the first wave of people lining up like pilgrims, layered with their belongings.

I was asked to position myself in a place where I could observe—either in the dining room or behind the serving line in the kitchen and to press-down on a little, hand-held lever each time a tray was filled with food.

I chose to stand behind a friend who was gently dipping out mashed potatoes onto trays—tenderly creating a little space for the gravy—and offering light banter to the souls passing through in the way only a person comfortable-in-her-own-skin can.

To my right was another gentleman I know who—despite his own, significant, physical challenges—was offering bread to weary travelers.

In addition to physically taking a tally of each individual who passed through, I made an accounting of them as well.

Not having a responsibility to interact or provide a service, I passed the time engaged in deep noticing of all those who came there for sustenance.

They selected the foods they wanted and I recognized them as valuable—infused with a powerful life-force and birthed into this world, welcomed or not.

I took in each part of them—the energy radiating from their bodies and especially their eyes and their hands, the turn of their mouths—studying the stories written there upon flesh.

I watched them light up and remember and retreat—expressing preferences and showing gratitude—in much the same ways as we all do.

I told myself the stories of their battles and considered the microcosm accumulated in their various paths—emblematic of the universal struggles we all face.

In the quiet of my mind, I let them know they had been counted—not just for having consumed a meal, not for having passed through, but for having arrived on this planet—in all of their unfettered humanity—worthy of being seen.

 

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