the best medicine for grief

Magnolia

Is a hundred-and-one-pound rescue dog: half Mastiff, half Shepherd, and no small amount of wooly mammoth.

Here I am in this new tiny house, with this new massive dog, getting up at dawn to write before I drive my mother’s bucket of a car to my new job, where I sit tethered to a desk from 9 to 5. This new world is strange and pretty, with wild packs of thug mosquitoes, mutant spiders, heat—heat that in heft and force could blind a man and fell him—and every kind of tree: scrubby, piney, stately, savage, towering, or choked by vines. These things require adjustment. But there are also bounties here, pleasures to which the soul adapts quite easily. The quiet. The watercolor cotton sky. The jackpot rattle of the cicadas. Sweet corn and farm-warmed peaches. The unsullied scent of rain.

I want to call my mother and tell her she was right. But, awfully, in this singular new world, she cannot answer. I tell a notebook instead. Dear Mama, I say. My mailman’s name is Les. Everything down here, from sauce to tea, is sweet. People are completely unpretentious, even the ones trying to be pretentious—they’re just nice. No one cares what you are wearing, or stink-eyes your shoe choice on the subway. The New York Times is only half an inch, even on Sunday. Bluegrass festivals are dry, and full of aging white people in shorts! I’m called ma’am. And then I tell her: I miss you. Every time I’m tickled, scared, empty, or full, I want to call you. And I can’t. Love, Bean.

Her furniture arrived two weeks ago, the morning after we got Maggie (short for Magnolia, because she is a Southern belle), and the two of us—dog and daughter—paced unsteadily among the boxes and the surplus chairs until we couldn’t stand the changes anymore and tore out of the house together, gulping for air and charging up the pavement to meet B to see if he could root us into place.

We’re this little family now, the three of us. And we go tromping through the forest, ducking cobwebs, sloshing through the muddy streams, and sitting under sunsets bled from heaven eating barbecue and drinking beer.

I spoke with a psychic last week who said my mother isn’t gone—not really. More like she’s in Alaska. But Alaska’s cold. So I prefer to think that, if she’s not at the picnic table with us eating catfish and corn pudding, then she’s still in Florida, swimming in the Intracoastal where I left her. The dog—drunk on the smell of hickory—resettles, snorts, and sighs. Maybe, just maybe, mum can hear.

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