July 3, 2006 at 6:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Reinforcements have arrived.  Jay was able to catch an earlier flight back from his brother’s wedding weekend in North Carolina.  He flew into Billings, rented a car, and showed up when we were napping.   It must be odd for him to be transported so quickly from the lush crowdedness of North Carolina to the sage brush and prickly pear cacti of my parents’ land.  The sky looms over us here; you can watch weather develop near the horizon. 

Jay was suitably impressed with my bruises.  The foot long bruises on my arms and thighs are luridly colored — deep purples blending to violet to green.  He cuddled gingerly next to me on the bed, and we swapped stories — mine of tumbling around inside a car, his of tumbling around inside his family.  It’s odd, but I half-wished I had a mangled limb or crutches or something more cataclysmic than significant swelling and bruising to give expression to how horrible the experience of the car accident was. 

Today is one of those mellow days at my parents’ that have almost no shape.  We’ve eaten meals at odd times and slept when we became tired. Andrew has spent most of the time puttering around in the barn, which is a giant play pavilion. Every toy that survived my three siblings and me is out in the barn, along with an electric train, a tricycle, and a loft for tea parties.  But mostly Andrew enjoys digging in the sandy soil near the house.  He fills buckets and wheelbarrows, and then empties them.  He buries his feet in the dirt.  I think it is the blankness of the dirt — the fact that he can imagine it to be anything — that draws him to it.  Like the rhythm of our days here, the dirt is fungible and formless.

Jay is tired.  His weekend was the antithesis of ours.  His brother’s wedding consisted of several scheduled events.  I can see his fatigue growing now as he able to unwind.  Sometimes it is only when you stop running that you realize how heavy your legs are, how sore your feet.  Here there is nothing to propel you.  It is completely silent, except for the wind in the pines, the birds chirping, and the rabbits scuffling on the side of the house.  No cars have passed today; no planes have flown overhead. 

This land is nearly impossible to cultivate.  My mother is in the midst of a series of paintings of abandoned ranches in the area.  People came from the East Coast or from the Old Country to try to scratch a living and a life out of the soil.  For a while, when the rains were regular and the grasshoppers didn’t devour the crops, they would fare pretty well.  But eventually, the uglier side of this land would show its face – drought, pestlilence, blizzards.  Families packed up and moved on, leaving behind homes and equipment and little oddities like the toilet seats in their outhouses and fragments of their once fine china.   Other ranchers would buy up the abandoned land, but they typically didn’t tear down the houses.  These buildings don’t rot or tumble down as much as they melt back into the dirt and sagebrush.  You happen upon these once hopeful settlements, leaning crazily as the land swallows them up.

Perhaps the families who abdicated their farms and the dreams that went with them wanted some concrete sign of their suffering too — something more than the inevitable bank note dispossessing them.  I wonder if they brought a board from the homestead, a handful of the soil, or at least a splinter with them.  Something to hold on to and say, “This is what is left behind.  This is how I have changed.”  But I’m sure most of them, just like the rest of us climbing out of wrecked cars or wrecked relationships, or leaving behind a bad job or a bad town, or waking up from surgery or getting a terrifying diagnosis, simply put their heads down and focused on what had to be done next.  You wear the marks of this life in your heart — once the bruises have faded. 

1 Comment

  1. Rosalind Joffe said,

    I’ve lived with auto immune chronic illnesses (CI) for almost 30 years, MS, UC and others. Raising our girls (they’re 19 & 22) with my husband was the second hardest part of living with illness (the first was trying to stay employed for my sanity). Your car accident reminded me of the two I’ve had. Both times, all I could think of was how lucky nothing worse happened – I’d learned bad, really bad things CAN happen. It’s tough to shake that fear and normalize it. But when you have kids, you have to. Wrecked cars, wrecked relationships, wrecked bodies. We go on.

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