When you live by yourself, coming home is a slightly bittersweet affair. It’s wonderful to return to your sanctuary but too quiet when you holler, Honey, I’m home! (or, let’s be honest, Who left this God-forsaken mess?). That is, unless you have as codependent a relationship with your pet as I do with permakitten Gracie.
I’m still marveling about what happened when I went away last week. Before I left, I held her paw and told her the date I’d be returning, just as I always do. My cat-sitter reports Little Miss started sitting anxiously by the front door on the morning of the day I’d said I would be back. By the time I came home–I extended my trip by two days–I could hear her weeping as I entered my building’s vestibule. When I walked into my apartment, this once-feral kitty catapulted into my arms, fur matted with dried tears. That she’d remembered the day I was supposed to return does not surprise me. That she could not receive my telepathic assurances I was still coming back hurts my heart. It’s never struck me as a coincidence that we discovered Grace as a deserted newborn just as I was realizing I wouldn’t bear young of my own. She is the dearest of overfamiliars, a sweetly striped manifestival of all the abandonment issues I’m healing for us both.
One of my favorite places in the whole world is a reading K-hole. I’ve been diving into these other realms since I first learned to read at age 3. (Necessity bred invention.) Even now when the going gets tough this toughie gets to reading, and even then I worried about how I’d resent any partner or offspring who kept me from a book. (A life-defining worry, as it turned out.) By kindergarten, I was on a first-name basis with everyone at my local library; today I volunteer at my neighborhood branch. The best is when I discover an author I love: I queue up all her books and sit pretty with the knowledge that I’ve divine company for weeks to come. My first such affairs were with Louise Fitzhugh, Madeline L’Engle, and Jane Austen. Then, when I needed a map out of my father’s kingdom, Marge Piercy. There’ve been so many since.
The last five days I’ve lived in a hammock under gently waving trees and read Octavia Butler, the speculative fiction author whom I’ve known I would love for 20 years but put off reading. Now I know why: I most need her at this juncture. I’m reading the Patternist series first, which is all about successfully harnessing psychic ability to create a functional community of conscious, connected people. As a woman who calls herself Carrie not entirely ironically, I’m inhaling these books like they’re oxygen and I’m underwater–which, let’s face it, I have been lately. I need to understand how to manifest what I’m starting to be shown in dreams and in my physical and emotional malaise. Butler’s words are a very fine place to start. She lets no one off the hook but devises brilliant solutions for the shadows and sunshine latent in everyone’s nature.
I always think of what Ray Bradbury wrote: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” I treasure the beauty of words, yes, but this is not why I love literature. I love it for the blueprint it offers the lonely, inventive child we each carry. This is why my favorite fiction is prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. I am looking to improve the human condition, starting with mine, and reading makes us all daughters of the universe.
I was stuck on an interminable Amtrak ride yesterday, surrounded by fussy kids. In those situations as in so many others, children are basically tiny drunks. I love my god daughters and respect others’ choice to, uh, perpetuate their lines but lordylordylordy: I had that feeling. The “Hear my spinster cry of freedom!” feeling. I tried not to roar, amused myself instead by dropping fat winks without smiling at the screaming children. Most of them got so freaked that they stopped their tomfoolery at least temporarily. (It takes a special sort of person to recognize the secret communion offered by a wink between generations.)
The universe being the gorgeous creature that it is, the flip side of that anti-child sentiment came flying toward me today as I was walking down Massachusett’s Minuteman lane. Streaming braids, ladybug helmet, bright yellow bicycle, scabby knees, the works. I gave this ladychild a huge smile on account of how much I loved her and she rewarded me with a bashful, gap-toothed smile of her own. Just then Joni’s “I met a friend of spirit” lyric popped on myPod shuffle.
It all reminded me of two stanzas from a Robert Haas poem that a good beau had sent me a few years ago:
The woman I love is greedy, but she refuses greed. She walks so straightly. When I ask her what she wants, she says, “A yellow bicycle.” * Sun, sunflower, coltsfoot on the roadside, a goldfinch, the sign that says Yield, her hair, cat’s eyes, his hunger and a yellow bicycle.
This in turn reminded me of a beau I’d loved more than I’ve loved anybody, one who gave me a beautiful yellow bike but broke my heart maybe on purpose. I beamed him love–equally beautiful, equally yellow–because for once I felt big enough to do so, and the words I’d been holding back from my book started pouring out. I hastened back to my godfamily’s home and opened my laptop in their backyard with many green breezes.
Nothing’s better than stepping back into the flow of life. Just nothing.