Brakes

I’ve no idea the time of day. Through the slits in the shutters it’s light, but dim. Maybe it’s cloudy or maybe we’re dipping towards the evening. I really have no idea. Although I can’t see them, I know my eyes are swollen because even that dusty blue light trickling in burns the backs of my eyeballs. I’m not a cinematically pretty crier. Blotches. Snot. Puffy eyes. Real-life, y’all. I let out a long sigh (something I haven’t been able to do for hours now), adjust the heavy comforter around my neck and close my eyes once more. My throat is sandpaper.

However many hours ago it was (more than 4, I know this much) my body snowballed into a full-blown panic attack. Snowball might not be the right term…more like instantly transported. Appeared then reappeared like a subatomic particle. Was not and then *poof!* was. Anyway, I say my body and not my mind because throughout the whole episode, my head stayed surprisingly in the right place. Instead, my body and primal instincts completely overwhelmed all of my systems and nothing my brain, sense, or breathing could do or say was enough to be heard by my instincts. The bullet train had left the station and there was no catching it.

I’ve had panic attacks before. Real panic attacks. Real, crippling episodes of utter chaos. They’re almost always random and not in response to some in-process circumstance. They’re always terrifying and they always take time to realize what’s actually happening. Being someone who was diagnosed with a panic disorder years ago, I’ve learned that it’s damn near impossible to explain the realities of panic attacks to those who’ve never experienced (or witnessed a loved one experience) them. They’re often written off as just being anxious. Overreacting. Being dramatic. Hey just breathe. Just try and breathe. 

I’m not laying in my own bed which in a weird way, I’m grateful for. On the one hand, my own bed would offer the safety and seclusion of home, the view of my donkeys outside the bedroom window, the chattering of ducks and chickens in the yard (all my critters which tether me to the planet), and the knowledge of being completely alone which my ego would certainly prefer. Panic attacks are not pretty. I hate to use the word humiliating but laying in this bed with a swollen face and wearing an old t-shirt of my little brother’s because mine is somewhere on the floor in the bathroom covered in vomit is, well, awfully vulnerable and difficult to have anyone else witness. The loss of all rational function and contrast between mind and body is…what’s the word…otherworldly. An out-of-body experience but also weirdly, deeply, internally intimate. 

On the other hand, had I been alone, I’d have believed I was having a heart attack or a breakdown and no doubt would have called an ambulance and ended up in the ER. Thankfully, I’m at my parent’s house. If there’s one person who has seen me at my absolute worst, raw, and real, it’s my mom. Fate, I suppose, held off on cutting the wires of the elevator sending it plunging to the ground until I was with her.

With my eyes closed, I try to relax all the little muscles around my eyes and the lines along my neck but just as soon as I consciously let them go and jump to thinking of something else, they’re tense again. My jaw. My brow. Even my guts. All of my insides have banded together. I imagine all my organs clenching one another to try and keep safe from an imminent attack — see because that’s what my body has told them to do. Danger is near and we are either going to run or battle. There’s something calming in imagining they all have little arms so they can group hug. Sweet body. I imagine my liver is scared not having her gallbladder friend to hold onto. Maybe pancreas has stepped in. She is known as the most empathetic organ, afterall. 😛 

Here’s what a panic attack is NOT:

  • Worrying too much
  • Overreacting
  • Overthinking
  • A sign of weakness
  • Just your anxiety
  • Being scared
  • Being dramatic
  • Something you can just relax away from
  • Something you can just distract yourself from
  • Something you can talk your way out of or breathe deeply to make go away
  • Something WRONG with or about you
  • A sign that you’re too emotional
  • A sign that you’re too sensitive
  • And let me repeat: A PANIC ATTACK IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS

Here’s what is actually happening during a panic attack:

  • Your body & mind have triggered its “fight or flight” response which is not a mental function but instead, a physiological one
  • Something has triggered this response. It could be something real-time (a near-miss car accident, being mugged in an alley, someone jumping out of a dark room to scare you etc) or it could be something stored in your brain somewhere. Maybe it’s a response to long term and unrelenting stress. Maybe it’s stored up trauma. Maybe it’s a phobia you forgot about or didn’t realize was there. Maybe it’s a suppressed event which you can’t even recall but physiologically is still quite active in your mind.
  • Your instincts (and subsequently entire body) go into survival mode which triggers a complex, impressive, and instant hormonal chain reaction
  • Your brain sends signals through your sympathetic nervous system which pumps your body full of adrenaline (imagine flooring the gas pedal in your car) so everything speeds up. Heart rate. Breathing (because literally your airways widen). Blood pressure. Blood to the muscles. Senses become sharper. Even blood sugar reserves are released. And keep in mind, this happens instantly before your eyes and ears have even processed any sort of threat.

What SHOULD happen after a panic attack (or once the threat has been mitigated) is that the parasympathetic nervous system (the brakes, if you will) should return your body back to homeostasis. But where I guess the disorder kicks in is in the imbalance of these two systems: the gas and the brakes. Someone cut the brake lines (much like the below video for you Always Sunny fans.) Dammit Charlie. Wildcard! 

 

I flip over in this guest room bed and pull the blanket over my head. This has been by far the worst attack I’ve ever had. Most of them last no more than an hour. There’s not a specific thing or ritual that pulls me down from them. I think it’s usually just within an hour (or two) my parasympathetic nerves start to breathe and a bit or normalcy returns. This time was different. It wasn’t until I eventually passed out from pure exhaustion that I suppose things were able to begin resetting. For the hour before I fell asleep / passed out (whatever may have been the case) my mom told me over and over to try and sleep. “You need to close your eyes. Try to sleep. You don’t need to go to the ER. You’re not having a heart attack.” She kept her hand on my wrist feeling my pulse the whole time.

But that adrenaline. That uncontrollable response Would. Not. Cooperate. That van was going to crash.

My mom must hear me stirring because while still under the blankets, I hear her footsteps. I pull the covers down to peek out with my swollen eyes and she asks how I’m doing.

I don’t know, I tell her. But I’m really sorry you had to see all of that.

She reassures me that it’s okay. That she was glad I was here instead of alone. That she hoped she hadn’t upset me by trying to convince me I didn’t need to go to the ER, but she’s seen me do this before and knew we could get through it. We could get through it with grounding.

Moments before I ended up in the guest room bed, my mom filled the bath with a few inches of water and told me to sit on the edge of the tub with my feet in the cool water. The idea of sitting still felt out of reach but I must admit that within a few minutes, I did finally feel like there was ground beneath me. Though I was still sobbing and shaking and trembling, and feeling like this must be a mental break, this can’t just be a panic attack, I need to go to the ER, my heart is about to explode, I can’t see straight, I need to run and jump but I also can’t move what do I do what do I do what is happening what is happening—the cool water on my bare feet did something.

Or maybe it was that my mom ran a bath for me. I’m in my 30s and my mom ran a bath for me. As an independent adult there was something both embarrassing and reassuring for me about this. How did I get here and why am I like this are questions that bubbled up like a newly opened Coke. Why do I need my mom to take care of me. Why can’t I just calm down. Dammit body, what the f*ck. But also, my mom is still here for me. 30 years later and my mom is still here. She still knows. She’s around and we have a solid relationship and I know that if the tables had been turned, I’d be putting her feet in water. Reassuring, indeed.

It was shortly after that that I changed my shirt, crawled into bed, and slept.

You’re not shaking anymore, my mom tells me.

I think my insides still are, I say, but yeah, it’s not as bad.

She runs her hands through my hair like she used to when I was sick as a little girl and says, you got through that, honey. You got through that on your own.

I tell her that I wasn’t on my own, that she’d been there to help me like she had so many times before.

For the rest of the evening, I don’t eat but I do drink Gatorade. I sit in the living room with both of my parents now and we reminisce about my childhood. That it’s funny to see me in my brother’s shirt and how when I was a teenager, I raided my older brother’s closet all the time. Remember my goth stage? There’s that picture from that one Easter where I look like I’m about to sacrifice a small animal in a pentagram. We laugh about my mom having never been able to handle us throwing up and I applaud her for not abandoning me as I, an adult, upchucked over and over to the point of dry-heaving in front of her. I thank her again. I ask them if I’ve always been like this and they say that this is the worst they’ve seen it but that I made it through and if it happens again, they know I’ll make it through then, too. That they’re glad I was at their house. And honey, you’re safe. You’re safe.

I tell this story because panic attacks are real. They are real and I’ll say again, they are not a sign of weakness. Being in the storm is terrifying but you will get through it. You will, I promise, and when you do, instead of letting your mind fizz with self-deprecation for being someone who has these episodes, thank your body for doing what it’s wired to do. Your body is trying to protect you. Even if there’s an imbalance in your systems where the brakes have been cut, still, it happens because your body, even without your consciousness’ control, wants you safe. In time, it will pass. Maybe stick your feet in the water. If you’re alone, maybe call someone you trust to just be on the other end of the line while you’re crying. Try anything to find the ground. But most of all, love yourself. Love yourself for everything that you are.
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A final note — if you do struggle with panic attacks and are not confident in your ability to get through them or want help to start digging at the roots, please contact your doctor, counselor, or therapist. I do. I think that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to even type a post like this. Take care of yourself. Lean on others when you need to. Seek help before things are out of control. There’s zero shame in that. Instead, there is a lot of strength in doing what you need to do to feel supported, whole, and seen. Whoever you are, I love you. Truly, I do.

Polka-Dots

I know of a shore that harbors magic: an old, forgotten magic that lies dormant beneath the rocks and pebbles of all shades and sizes. They sit atop the sand at least two feet deep and two miles long. In my memory, I return there often. The Atlantic whips the coast with salty daggers and it’s no wonder the rocks are smooth and shiny like jewelry. I think my face would’ve become that too if I had stayed. I wanted to pocket a few of the rocks before I left as some sort of souvenir, but that’d be kidnapping. They belonged there. They belonged there like the birds that darted around in the tall grass behind the rocks—birds I’ve not seen anywhere else. Plus, I’d whispered to the rocks that I’d be back someday. I asked them to wait for me. 

I sometimes imagine that if the world were ending and I had some sort of heads up, I’d return to that shore and wait to be consumed. It’s a place of deep pondering; a place that takes the whole brain to attempt comprehending. Just imagine how many rocks decorate the sand and how many more hide under the waves which crack and foam. How many critters have made homes between, inside, and under the rocks? How many hundreds or even thousands of years has it taken to build a collection of stones this size? How much longer might it all last?

I had a dream once that I stood on that shore atop the rocks barefooted and wearing a polka-dot dress. I watched the sun begin to unravel into a purplish, pinkish version of itself. It swirled into what looked like a portal and all I can remember feeling in this dream was that nothing would ever be the same. An end, maybe. Or beginning. I wasn’t (and still am not) sure. I also stood very tall. I wasn’t taller, per se, but I stood tall. I can picture myself because in the dream, I must have been a spectator watching myself from somewhere in the tall grass with the flitting birds. Maybe I was a spectating bird. She, (or I, I guess) was fearless. She stood unshaken even though the world was moments away from swallowing her.

That dream sits vividly in the front of my mind always. Everytime I see a collection of stones, I think of it. Everytime I visit a shore of any kind, it appears. When my posture sinks and I worry the waves may sweep me away, I try and picture that version of me in the polka-dot dress standing in complete defiance of the chaos swirling around her. A strong, stoic, secure pillar in a melting world.

I wonder what became of her all those years ago. I wonder if she’s still standing there watching the world burn. Or perhaps she went down in flames with all of it. She seemed like someone who could fight and fight hard. A woman who could destroy. Who could snap open her eyes and they’d be filled with flames and like a terrifying beast, scream and roar causing any nearby danger to dwarf and whimper in the presence of her power. Polka-dot dress versus the whole, freaking world. In the dream, furious waves battered the coast—mean, ugly waves  trying to manipulate the shapes of everything. They tried to sweep and steal the rocks and drown the birds along with their entire history of existence and their impact on the evolution of this place. They were the kind of waves that I think I’d run from, terrified, submitting to the fear, hoping that my feet would carry me fast enough.

But polka-dot dress and all, I stood there. I couldn’t see my face from my post in the tall grass, but I know the face I make when I have no more patience for intimidation. My jaw clenches tight, my eyes narrow, but my brow does not furrow because I have nothing left but will: the will to preserve all in which I believe. All which I have yet to discover. All which I stand for. And there’s a calm, unfurrowed freedom in running on pure, honest will.

I know of a shore that harbors magic. There must be a billion rocks, no two the same. It’s no wonder the mysterious birds live there. I asked them to wait for me and my gut tells me they still are. I’m sure it’s changed, the landscape an entire shift from what I remember. But it’s still there. Soon, I hope to return.

 

Sweet Girl

For the third day in a row, it’s pouring. My grumpy donkeys huddle together in the barn as the rain batters the tin roof so loud that it rattles my bones—it must be deafening to their large ears. After piling their feeders with extra hay in lieu of typical grazing time, I pull the hood of my rain coat over my head and slide the barn door shut behind me. Like a million pellet guns, the drops strike my whole body.

The ducks scatter around the yard, rain wicking from their slick feathers. Like children in a ball pit, they bounce and play gleefully in the growing muddy puddles. The chickens on the other hand, band together in one of their coop’s nesting boxes even grumpier than the donkeys—wide, feathery, pissed off floofs. I make sure they’ve got dry food, then check to make sure none of my little infant plants are flooded, and finally check on the part of the fence that leans too far when the ground is soft and the wind is harsh before finally seeking refuge on the porch. Like a dog after a bath, I shake as much water off myself as I can. To nearly the top of my rubber boots, mud goops like raw brownie batter so I sit down on an empty milk crate — (a milk crate that I’ve had forever, although I’m not sure where it came from?) — and slide them off with a suctiony, slurpy sound. Even my socks are soaked. 

It’s too early for us to have rain this heavy and consistent, right? These are the kinds of showers that roll through with fury in the springtime. Then again, we’ve hardly had a winter down here—a single hard freeze and only 2 or 3 light ones. The summer will be a bug nightmare. This is the year I should build a bat house. Maybe today is the day I need to build a bat house. I should build my bat house. 

*Sigh* I forgot to bring towels outside with me before my morning critter-care chores and so until I’m not dripping, I’ll stay seated on the milk crate. A shiver runs down my spine and echoes through my limbs. It’s cold. Cold for East Texas, at least. Low 40s and wet. I briefly consider wrapping the grill cover around me but that’s also where I’ve seen not one, not two, but three different black widows over the past year. So nevermind. I guess black widows prefer their meals grilled?

The cold scurries up and down my spine like a mouse whose chilly feet tick-tick-tick in my limbs. The shivers follow the rhythm of my heartbeat: pangs like beating drums ripple back and forth…back and forth. A puddle of my dripping self has formed around the milk crate below me—its rounded edges creep outward with every drop, latching onto stray bits of mulch, dirt, and bird shit. The puddle grows and grows swallowing all the grit around me, the mucky water now littered with specs of dirty farm junk. 

The temperature’s become painful in it’s dampened strength and at this point, has swallowed me whole. It would make sense to end this torture by going inside regardless of the dripping, but I’ve become completely enamored with this slowly expanding pool. It just keeps growing. Of course I could end its growth at any time, I am in complete control of this particular puddle’s fate. Subsequently, I am in complete control of the fate of all the bits of ground stuffs that one by one are being sucked into the edges and then belly of the beast.

It grows and it grows and it grows because I’m allowing it to. I’m invested now. If I were to move, I’d step in it, break it, free the yucky stuff, and proceed on with my day as if this thing I’ve created never existed and then what would all the effort of sitting out here in the cold, shaking and quivering, be for? This is time I’ll never regain, a scene I could never recreate, and why? Why would I leave? For my own self-care?

For my own self-care?

My own self-care?

Self-care?

Carefully, I stand. I step delicately over the puddle which recoils a bit and as I walk towards the door, a trail of splats follows me. My wet socks leave footprints across the cement and even after I strip myself completely down and wrap up in a thick blanket, some remnants of the dampness is with me. Even now, in the softness of my blanket, my toes and fingers are pruned and my guts still shiver. I pull the blanket tighter and wrap my arms around myself. Relax. Try to relax. Let your eyes sink back in their sockets. 

Sweet girl, it’s okay. It’s okay. Come here, it’s okay. 

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Follow the Cardinal

“Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

A Donkumentary

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory…

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The Second!

Greetings and happy completed rotation around the sun! As we start the next lap of this bizarre, aging, linear (but also cyclical?) journey called life, I’d like to take a moment to say how deeply grateful I am to still be on this wild ride even if there have been scary, upside-down loops, the kind of drops where your stomach lurches into your chest, and some kid who barfed along the way in just the right spot so that it landed on you in that spiraly section that was previously the one stretch of the dumb coaster you actually enjoyed. God I loathe roller-coasters, but I agreed to go because according to my friends and family, I should “try new things and quit being such a grouch about activities that involve bright colors and loud noises.” Fine fine fine…

It’s been a tough year in many ways for all of us, it seems. But hey, this rotation is a new beginning, right? Right? I don’t know. I don’t like to buy into the “New Year, New You!” commercialism campaign that suggests that you’re not good enough so let’s set a date to make you better by buying protein powder and lotion that claims to eliminate cellulite. Of course, if there are things you’re working on to better yourself, your health, your well-being, your ability to connect, your climbing out of the dank, muddy hole that you keep slipping down into, well, hop up on that horse and ride into the new year with great ambition! This blue marble is your oyster, as they say. Giddy-up! Slurp down that raw mollusc and conquer!

I finally caught an oyster that I’ve been searching for for a long time. As y’all know, my first children’s book came out last year and it’s been a hit! I’ve sold more copies than I ever imagined I would and as promised, every bit of profit from those sales has gone to saving donkeys. Like, real life donkeys that need it. Real life donkeys that, no dramatics here, would’ve otherwise died. So thank you. Thank you for your support. Thank you for sharing in my excitement. It means more to me than darn near anything.

But back to that oyster. That beautiful, sparking oyster that has stayed a step (slide? slither? dragged motion?) ahead of me is finally in my hands and I am so proud and excited to announce that my second children’s book is officially on sale! “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” is a children’s book geared towards a little younger of a crowd, ages 2 – 5. It’s a story about a donkey who, in search of someone to be his Valentine, meets many new friends along the way that, although all different on the outside, are strikingly similar on the inside! I am lucky enough to have had the same illustrator, Andy Griffiths, attached to this project who once again, brought this story to life better than I could’ve imagined!

Y’all know I’m a self-admitted Holiday Curmudgeon, but I saw an opportunity to show that yes, we are all different on the outside with our own pasts, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and histories, but we’re also very similar when you think about it. And just like “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” this book will have 100% of the proceeds go to the non-profit Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (recently featured on CNN Heroes!) Right now, we’re running a deal in our whole gift shop where you get 20% off your entire order when you use the promo code 2020. So if you have a Valentine, kiddo, cousin, niece, nephew, grandkid, person you’re trying to impress, or just want to contribute to a great cause with a cute, cute book about oneness, then hop on over to donkeyrescue.com to get your copy!

I appreciate all of y’all. I appreciate all of y’all so, so much. If you find yourself feeling lonely either in life or just in your mind, try to remember that you’re not. We’re all on team Earth which keeps going, even if she’s feeling tired, sick, or under-appreciated. Happy New Year. Let’s keep making it better.

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‘Twas the Night Before Donkmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Some small creature was stirring; could it be a mouse?
There weren’t any stockings because I don’t care:
Festive decor is not quite my affair.

Two dogs were sprawled out all across the big couch
While I couldn’t sleep, which made me a grouch.
I wandered the room in my oversized pants
Quite pleased with the growth of my little houseplants.

When out towards the barn there arose such a clatter,
No doubt, all my critters just wanting to chatter.
Though quite cold out there, I can never resist
Three fuzzy snouts that might need to be kissed.

I pulled on my boots and my rainbow knit hat
(‘Cause really I love a midnight donkey chat.)
When what to my wondering eyes should appear:
But a burst of bright feathers with squawking and fear.

On no! A trash panda with scurrying legs,
I knew in a moment, he’s after them eggs.
More rapid than eagles I flew ‘cross the grass,
“Git git, you racoon, and your big furry @$$!”

He scrambled then two more ran into the woods
As I ran to check on my avian’s goods.
“Now ParmParm, now Gene, and Ron Swanson, you too,
And Dorothy and Pat: thank God you all flew.”

I checked in the box and thank goodness still there:
Were two tiny eggs leaned together with care.
I shuffled the birds right back into their coop
And sang them a song to help them regroup.

Of course all the noise would wake up my three donks,
For just then I heard a loud chorus of honks.
I bid sweet goodnight to my wee sleepy flock
And walked to the barn saying, “yoo-hoo, knock knock!”

Their eyes – how they twinkled! Their ears oh-so merry,
Such kissable noses (despite being hairy.)
They spoke not a word, my darling donks, three:
Bodhi and Bunny and last, Little Tee.

My face super cold, and nose surely rosy,
I stepped in the stall where it was real cozy.
There in that space, being watched by the moon
I (per my usual) hummed them a tune.

I s’posed it was time to try for some sleep,
So I whispered, “Y’all are each other’s to keep–
‘Till later when it’s just a little bit bright.
Merry Christmas to y’all, and to y’all a good night.”

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Whatever this season means for you, I hope it brings you peace. Take care, y’all. – Jess

Time for Silence

make sure to tend to your sweet hearts this season.

A Donkumentary

I realize I’ve fallen into this habit of beginning my blog posts by describing something that I’m up to when my thoughts begin to twirl and tumble around some thing that I’ve been worried about, obsessing over, or working hard to accomplish and I think it’s because I do my best kind of pondering when I’m busy with something. Moving meditation, perhaps. Or maybe it’s because I am able to occupy some of the busier parts of my brain with a task, thus allowing room for the deeper, more thoughtful areas of my mind to stretch their limbs a little.

But as you may have read in one of my recent posts, ‘Magic Eye,’ things have been moving pretty fast around here lately and I suspect that the entirety of my conscious mind (even those deeper and more contemplative areas) are in a constant state of “all hands…

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sit

you want to
perch upon that
branch

the one which
overlooks the meadow
where even when it

rains, rabbits skip
between flowers,
unbothered

but to rest
to observe means
stillness silence

steadiness

you can’t grip
the mug between
your hands

without spilling over
the edges shaking
unconscious

unconscious

so sit.

sit with it.
sit with it.
sit with it.

spilling, splashing,
spinning, sit.

sit with it.

the meadow will wait

Magic Eye

A year forward and still no decipherable image. The colors and shapes keep shifting (some bright, some dark, some which make no sense) so I suppose a continuing gaze isn’t a waste.

A Donkumentary

It’s dawn. Somewhere behind the trees, the sun is shifting, although the sky is still holding onto a few bright stars in her darkness not yet touched by the waking light. I’ve slipped my boots on over my flannel jammie pants and am pulling my hoodie over my head. It’s in the 30’s out there which, for us native Texans with thin blood, is brutal. The dogs scatter around my feet with their tails wagging and claws scratching the tile floor: they’re ready to run around in the cold and to chase squirrels or rabbits who often explore the yard in the wee hours.  

I open the back door, the cold scratching my face, as the dogs sprint past me and out of sight. I cinch the hood around my face as I walk towards the barn, leaves crunching beneath my boots. The donkeys know I’m coming: Bunny begins…

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Grow. Grief.

It’s dark out which by no means means it is late. No. We have entered that time of year where the sun falls at 4:30PM forcing the chickens, ducks, donkeys, dogs, and heck even myself into an earlier, Pavlovian need to eat and bunk down for the night hours before they (we) otherwise should. I’m standing at the back window watching the patches of ground visible from the light by the lamp next to me. Leaves swirl and snap in all directions as the chimes outside my backdoor clash and clang. My phone griped earlier as a “wind advisory” alert was issued for my area and boy, they weren’t kidding. I could swear my house (though short and stout) is swaying.

Although I can’t see it, I’m looking in the direction of my garden. The weather forecast suddenly showed yesterday that tomorrow night, this swampy little corner of the world would welcome (well, maybe not welcome, but we’re polite in Texas so I’ll say it) the first hard freeze of the year. When I say hard, I mean low 20’s. To give you perspective, I wear a jacket below 75 degrees always. Low 20s is otherworldly. That kind of cold just isn’t in my blood. Give me heat, give me humidity, give me air like a warm washcloth. Like a fancy fungus, I thrive there. Maybe this means I’m cold blooded—I do sometimes think after I’ve eaten too much that I could stand to lay on a flat rock beneath a strong heat lamp like a pet lizard. Come to think of it, I’d do well under a heat lamp most of the time. My office. My kitchen. My bed…there’s an idea.

My garden also does well in this marshy place. It’s happy here. Hot sun, wet ground, pollinating bugs-a-plenty. But for the squirrels, this is optimum garden housing. Though I’ve pretty much always struggled with growing a cooperative garden (be it the soil, my technique, a one-off drought, or my inability to give it the attention it deserves), I have done really well with this one. I’ve become utterly obsessed with it. I spritz it. I fertilize it. I prune it. I talk to it. And for the first time in years (the last time being at my funny farm in north Texas with buck wild cucumber, onion, and pepper success), I’ve grown plants and achieved a small harvest. I enjoyed a bowl of my very own, homegrown edamame the other night. I’ve got a pile of green beans sitting in my refrigerator that I plan on frying in a couple days. And I had a dozen or so perky, little tomatoes that were a mere two or so weeks from reaching ripeness and I was really hoping I could slice them up and dash them with salt and pepper. 

Alas, tomorrow night, the hard freeze. Hours of it. Low 20s. That’s a death sentence for my last remaining growth out there…my sweet, sunny, perfect little tomato plants.

Sure, I’ll cover them with a warm blanket and hope that somehow, someway, they survive, although I’m not optimistic (in fairness, I am by nature not an optimistic person…so even if the conditions were even slightly different, I doubt I’d be at all sunshine and rainbows about it—further proof that maybe I am in fact, cold-blooded.) I’ve also decided that I will pluck some of the larger tomatoes from their stems, place them in a sunny window and hope they continue to ripen. 

Another gust of wind whips the window and I sigh. What will I do now when I become over stimulated or feel myself tumbling to a panic attack? For months, it’s been the ritual of escaping to my garden which has helped pull me down into quietude. My own, secret garden. Only I have known what lies within its boundaries and there, I have found peace. My fortress of solitude. 

Of course I have my donkeys and the barn and a place with them to rest, relax, remember who I am, and find grounding. I always do. I talk often about how those three, little peanuts are my tethers and that’s not changed. But there’s been a uniqueness to this place I’ve grown—this place that without my constant tinkering and attentiveness may have otherwise not succeeded and tomorrow, I must say goodbye. 

I feel streams of tears begin to roll down my cheeks and I have to laugh a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever shed a tear over plants. What’s wrong with me? But then the seal breaks and suddenly, I’m in a full on, blotchy, snotty cry. I don’t want to say goodbye. I don’t want to see it die. I want her to continue to grow and glow and reach for the sky. 

She’s worked and tried so hard. She’s overcome so much. She’s created incredible things and tomorrow, it ends.

I wipe my face and wonder if I ought to make some tea and turn on a dumb TV show to distract myself from this confusing and odd moment, but I stop myself and hold my place at the window, staring into the barely illuminated darkness where leaves are flitting chaotically. This means something. This means something because I don’t think I cry for no reason. I don’t think I spend my time doing things that don’t matter. So what does it mean?

I wonder if my compost will freeze? I do love composting and the whole idea of it: the death and rot and breaking down of once living things that over time, transform into unmatched nutrition for future growth. What a circle of life there. 

Maybe that’s what this whole garden thing is—a breakdown of something in order to make room for something new. A closing door. An end but also not really. My hope is that the soil will be healthier when I start a new garden in the spring. Maybe it’ll have held onto some of its nutrients that I fed it and maybe after a till and a fold in of compost, it’ll be ripe and ready to begin again.

Another gust of wind whips and although it’s barely past 5:00, I decide I might change into comfier clothes, take my contacts out, and stare at something for a while—the ceiling, outside, or maybe some random show that just makes some noise to fill space so that the only room that’s left is the consideration of my own rotting, breaking down, shifting, dying, grieving, and regrowing with something (hopefully) fuller, brighter, and more fruitful on the other side. I think we must all experience this cycle whether we realize it or not. I suppose the important thing is that we’re minding it. We’re giving it time. We’re trying and we’re taking care. Most of all, I think it’s important to admit that we, like the seasons and the things that thrive within them, change too. We till. We nurture. We grow. We die. We breakdown. We grieve. We start building again. 

Yup, I’ll make some tea. And there’s always Fraiser on Netflix, although that show is not dumb or random. Not even a little. It’ll forever and always be one of my favorite. That sounds good right now.

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