Photo credit: Intisar Abioto
When I wrote Narrow River, Wide Sky: A Memoir
, I wanted to say everything to everyone I’ve ever loved about everything I’ve wanted to say, but elegantly, artfully, succinctly, and with few adverbs.
As I began this blog entry, Ron, my soon-to-be ex-husband, drove his new all-electric car to his old house in Amity where he lived during his junior high years.
He sent a text, “They cut down my pine tree. I don’t know why I expected it to be there.”
I texted back, “It’s not too much to ask. My tree is still alive.”
My brother, Brian, and I sat in the trees of our young childhoods on the two-acre farm in Colorado, just off I-70 that sits along the Eagle River, west-running.
My father wanted to be a big man among big men, a rancher, a businessman, a skiing legend with trails named after him, a man who called doctors by their first names without saying Doctor before it was the way of things — before it was socially acceptable and we children referred to our friends’ parents as Mrs. and Mr. and the school authorities could spank us with a paddle in the solitude of their offices.
His way was to make up racist pejoratives and sexist phrases and he said them so often, they became his truth — the world and the rest of the pioneer-worshipping men and women of western Colorado where the mining towns were becoming ghosts and displacing populations that had been there for hundreds or thousands of years. Or more.
My father texted me recently, “Can I call you sometime?”
I didn’t answer. I don’t have anything to say that he could hear, and I’ve listened to him long enough.
I remember my mother in the garden, harvesting, pulling things up by the roots when they were done, fertilizing, putting down mulch.
She’d say, “I wonder what we’ll plant next year.”
I miss her hands, rough from the planting and milking the goats. I miss the smell of her night cream. I miss how sticky her cheek was when she kissed me goodnight.
Mom said, “It’s better for you than cow’s milk,” and “Cow’s milk makes people heavy.”
My first diet was to give up cow’s milk. I used to drink it, cold, from the jug.
If my mother had lived and I’d become a writer anyway, I would’ve written so she’d never complain about my weight again.
When my baby was born, we had a hard time latching on. Each new nurse who came in to squeeze my breast into Chiara’s mouth brought on dread for me and a crying for the baby. They said, “She has to have this. This is the most important milk — the first milk.”
I miss my daughter — the way her fingers are long and can wrap around my hands and the way she sits on the edge of a chair when she eats which used to drive me crazy. She read the book, but before she did, she said, “I don’t want to have to have a particular reaction to it.” She’s the wisest person I know.
I miss my brother — the ways we were when we needed each other, when we trusted each other, when we played in the trees and ran mountain and river roads. He’s called the book a zillion negative comments.
And I belong to all of it. I belong to the river and rosehips and rhubarb and goats milk — to sustenance and abundance and the tragedy beneath it all.
The families I belonged to aren’t what they once were, and family as an idea isn’t what it once was for many of us anymore, and the reality is that family structure has ever been an evolving thing. Or so I tell myself in order to hold the sadness of it all.
That tree I played in on the farm — it's still alive. Just thinking about it being there now keeps me rooted. Sustained. I belong to that tree. I’m so sad for Ron that the tree of his childhood was cut down. He’ll belong to that, too. How do we hold all this grief?
So. I didn’t find a way to repair my relationships, and I’ve since stopped desiring belonging.
And really, as an artist, the writer of this book, I’ve come to understand that it’s not about me. It’s about symbols and mythology. It’s about stories and Americana and love and family and trust and tragedy and grief. It’s about evolution and war. It’s about writing some things back into being and holding on to lost things and people.
A friend said the way it’s written — it’s simple, which is enough.
÷ ÷ ÷
has been published in a number of print and online publications, including Seattle’s City Arts Magazine
, Nailed Magazine
, Hip Mama
, The Literary Kitchen
, Indiana Review
, and Columbia Journal
. Her work is included in the Listen to Your Mother
anthology published by Putnam. She curates the Unchaste Readers Series. Narrow River, Wide Sky
is her first book.