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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Broken

This morning, I followed a hummingbird after she made a stop at the feeder hanging on my back patio. She flew around to the darker side of my house; the neglected side of my house shaded so heavily by overgrown trees that grass doesn’t grow. This is the side of my house with the grumbling a/c unit that needs to be fixed, where spider webs hang between every surface, and where leaves from last fall still lay in deep stacks in the mud. I wondered why the hummingbird chose to fly this way.

I turned the corner to the dark side of my house just in time to see the bird buzzing away into the mess of trees. I rarely visit this place and it’s been a while since my last time. It’s a sloped surface protruding with large tree roots and scattered, rotting leaves. Cloudy, white webs speckle the wall and tree trunks and there’s a damp coolness to this space which is exaggerated in the already hot morning. 

Down from the trees, the hummingbird zipped once more to the far side of the a/c unit. Quietly, I stepped around to see her hovering in front of a small, bright green plant right next to the wall. She stuck her long, stick-beak into a tiny, yellow flower, body frozen (but for her wings). She switched flowers just as a stick snapped beneath my boot and—poof! She disappeared into the trees.

The small plant was no more than a foot and a half tall with delicate, glossy green leaves. Near the end of every thin branch was a shy, pale yellow flower, each one with five petals. The plant practically glowed in this otherwise shadowy, wet place. What was it doing here? 

I took a few steps closer and crouched down in front of the juxtaposed plant. Its leaves were jagged along the edges which seemed to contradict the sweet softness of its flowers—like small kittens in razor wire. I didn’t dare touch the plant, scared that I might get poked or worse, that I might smush or harm one of its pale, yellow whispers. It’s strong, I thought to myself as I stood. To survive on this side of the house—to even have the will to grow—must take courage and will power. Still, it puzzled me how the plant came to grow in this spot all alone. 

Suddenly, a drop of water plopped onto one of the leaves from high above so I looked up only to see a hole in the rain gutter which lines the roof of my house. The hole was about the size of a quarter and rusted around its uneven edges. Moments later, another drop dripped down. 

I was unsure how the hole would’ve gotten there, but also realized that if not for that rusted hole, this small, strange plant may have never grown. Not only did water drip from it, but I imagine at high noon, light shined directly down onto the plant. 

Crouching back down, I sang a little tune, having heard somewhere that talking and singing to plants helps them grow. I don’t know if this is true, but it couldn’t hurt. Plus, this small, circumstantial growth must be quite lonely in the darkness of this forgotten place. A strange and beautiful plant, born from brokenness, here only because something else over which it had no control, failed. A smile in the shadows, a source of food, and a pop of pale yellow in a dark and otherwise dreary place. She stands her own with jagged armor and with perfect, petite poise. 

As I stood and walked away, I heard the buzz of the returning hummingbird but continued on without turning, leaving the plant to provide on her own. She has what she needs, there on the far side of the house. A happy happenstance. A light in a dark place. A product of brokenness. 

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Softness

I’m sitting in my spot—the one in the far, left nook of the couch by the window that looks out towards the donkey’s barn and pasture—as my coffee cools and the night is swelling into its final, heavy moments before the prick of dawn. I spent the fifteen or so minutes before this trying to meditate without much success. Meditation for me looks more like a whack-a-mole game of trying to silence my internal dialogue. Relax your face, I tell myself. Soften your shoulders. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that angry email I’ve let sit in my inbox for a day. I guess it was my mistake that got me there, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I owned it. But the world seems so unforgiving these days.

Relax your throat. Deep belly breath. Notice the crickets outside. Mistakes are supposed to help us grow. We are supposed to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities so that every day, we can do just that much better. But that email. The failure. The broken glass on the floor with me standing over it. In many ways, I’ve always been clumsy. 

Soften your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Imagine your breath is a jellyfish gently propelling itself through darkness. I’m sorry, I’ll say, I misunderstood. Because I truly did. I thumbed through my notes which I remember jotting down with what I later learned was incorrect information. My cheeks get hot and red when I realize I’m wrong and a giant hole opens up around my heart which swallows it into a pit of shame. 

Whack-a-mole. Whack, whack whack. So I abandoned my not-so-quiet spot on the floor, made myself some coffee, and settled into my couch nook.

I take a sip of my coffee which is mostly cool now. My brother makes fun of me for preferring room-temperature coffee. I don’t like hot coffee and I don’t much like cold coffee either. Hit me with that middle ground. This makes me smile because my brother never pokes fun with harshness, only silliness. He’s appalled at my coffee preferences and habits (because I also do this thing where I’ll make a whole pot of coffee, only drink one, cool cup form it, and spend the next three days pouring my morning coffee from the same full pot I brewed days ago instead of making fresh coffee). But he never makes me feel bad for it. He just laughs about it which in turn, makes me laugh. Actually, his recognition of my (albeit strange) brewing practices makes me feel seen.

Dawn will break any moment. To me, the anticipation is exciting every single morning. Sip. Breathe.

I recently finished watching the Amazon Prime series, “Good Omens,” which is based off the novel written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fantastic read (and wonderful listen if you’re an Audible subscriber) and I’m happy to have found that the television series is just as remarkable as the book. They did a phenomenal job adapting the story for the screen. I highly recommend.

I bring this up because there’s a moment in the television series where the angel, Aziraphale, sighs and says, “I’m soft.”

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Since finishing the series, I think about this moment often. 

I’m soft, he said. I’m soft. 

My chest still feels hollow and empty as my shame is berating my heart somewhere else that I can’t see, but boy can I feel. I absolutely loathe making mistakes. I hate letting others down, of course, but I also know that a misstep means the beast of self-consciousness is fed. I close my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’m soft,” he said. And he said it with a sigh. With a release. With a surrender. 

Softness. 

Softness, I think, is porous. My big donkey, Bunny, keeps relapsing with what’s called “white line disease” because her hooves are soft and porous. It’s been raining nearly non-stop for months which hasn’t allowed her desert-evolved-hooves to dry out and bacteria thrives there. Only in dry, open, and clean air can white line disease start to heal. The hooves need to harden and in hardness is protection. 

Maybe I’m soft. Maybe that’s why the monsters of doubt, anxiety, and depression thrive in my being like bacteria. My face feels so hot. I hate screwing up. How could I be so careless?

I take another sip of my cool coffee. The blackness outside has shifted into navy blue. Ron Swanson, my rooster, perches on the fence and crows—a deafening break of silence. 

I’m soft, I realize. I’m soft. 

I picture Aziraphale’s face and try, too, to surrender to the idea. I let go of the tension in my face, my shoulders, even in the muscles between my ribs. I let out an audible sigh. Ron Swanson crows again. 

But softness is what allowed Aziraphale to become sympathetic to the human race and even, I think, fall in love with them. Softness is how Aziraphale was able to connect with and find a partner in the demon Crowley, ultimately saving the world through their camaraderie. Softness allowed them to see one another. 

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Softness is why my brother making fun of my coffee habits doesn’t hurt my feelings. He sees me as a person with unique traits and I receive the comments as being seen as an individual. Softness is our ability to see one another as humans with strengths and weaknesses. With talents and flaws. With complex histories and room for growth. Softness connects us, it doesn’t block us out. Heck, softness is why I got into donkey rescue in the first place—because those long ears and thoughtful eyes passed through the netted walls of my soft heart and found a home in there and I never, ever, wanted to see another donkey suffer.

To be soft is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable, in my opinion, is to be brave. Knocking down the calloused walls knowing that the rawness behind it might be seen or judged by others takes strength. To recognize, admit, and own missteps with the intention of improving moving forward is something that as imperfect beings, we should all be trying to do. No one is perfect, so bust down that wall that you’ve built around the insecurity of not being perfect all the time—it’s not doing you any good.

I learned quickly as a novice gardener that the soil must be tilled, soft, and porous in order for plants to find strong rooting, ultimately allowing them to grow larger and hopefully, bear more fruit. So maybe if we till ourselves, allowing the surface to soften from time to time, we’ll experience growth in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. We’ll see each other as individuals with complex pasts and beautiful minds—that in our collective imperfection is infinite possibility for growth and connection. 

I’m soft. 

I’m soft.

I’m soft and for the first time all morning, I don’t have to remind myself to relax. Let flow, the feelings that rise. There is so much to learn and so much room to grow.

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Roots

It’s a chilly afternoon and I’ve finally decided to clear the weeds and old roots from the garden in order to prepare for a new, spring crop. My fall garden was a bust: I didn’t do enough research on planting in sticky, gumbo soil and we had a bizarre, hard freeze in mid-November which killed off everything weeks before I was planning to harvest. My fall garden yielded three green beans. Three.

I suppose it’s fine—I was travelling a lot last fall, so my chances of upkeeping a garden with the love and respect it deserved and needed were probably low. Plus, I haven’t built up a proper compost heap this time around. The odds have been against it and for more than two months now, I’ve let weeds and grass overtake my sad, little garden.

I pick a corner and kneel down to begin pulling up weeds. Dampness from the soil soaks into the knees of my jeans, but I don’t mind. I start by raking the stringier weeds with my fingers which are tangled loosely across the top of the bushier and more deeply-rooted growth below. Rake, rake rake. Dirt gathers beneath my fingernails and what was a chilly afternoon has become quite warm with my repetitive movements.

The repetitious motions of backyard gardening is therapeutic. Row by row, whether planting or clearing, there’s a natural rhythm that guides the process regardless of your being a seasoned gardener or not. Rake the loose weeds. Dig around the stubborn ones. Pull the deep roots. Brush away the leftover. Rake rake, dig dig, pull pull, brush, brush. Rake rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. 

Bit by bit and breath by breath, I travel through my garden removing that which is alive with rapidly reproducing weeds and dead from poor management and unfortunate circumstance.

It’s a bit grim: the idea that death must occur and be grieved in order to make way for new life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to move on from things of the past and how to start the healing (replanting) process. Like all people, I’ve had my share of heartache, hurt, missteps, and much like my garden, have fallen victim to poor management and unfortunate circumstance. Neglect. Distraction. Habitually pushing care to the back-burner. All that.

So here, squatting down in the mud and the weeds that are here because of my neglect, I imagine that the soil is life-giving light and the weeds are darkness, swiftly crawling across and covering the richness and space from which life, love, and nourishment sprouts. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush.

Gosh, there are weeds everywhere. It’d be easier to just let the whole thing go, I doubt I’ll have time for a garden this spring, anyway. My hands are beginning to hurt and the dampness from the ground has spread past my knees and down my shins. For the first time, I notice my fingertips covered in tiny, red cuts from small spikes in the seemingly infinite growth and holy moly they sting. Why didn’t I wear gloves? It’s so hot out here.

My heart rate has risen significantly and I can no longer find my breath. I try counting, but can’t hold my attention span to the count of four anymore. I pull my phone out of my back pocket and find the app which is connected to the USB-sized monitor implanted in my chest, right above my heart. It’s recording all the time, but I’m supposed to report when I can feel abnormal things occuring, which is often and especially when I do things like squat down for too long. I sit back, butt in the mud, and lean against the small, picket fence as the app begins to record my heart’s rhythm which is heavy and fluttering. The space around me vignettes itself and my fingers and toes begin to go numb. 

I close my eyes feeling the wet ground absorb into my jeans and try again to find my breath. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three…One, two…One, two, three.

It’s like I can’t get the breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs: it stops halfway. I make a concerted effort to relax my gut, pelvis, chest, and eyes, and try to imagine sinking a little farther down into the wet ground. Instead of counting, I picture a jellyfish gently and repetitively pulsing through the water. My friend and teacher, Stacey Ramsower, shared this image with me recently and it’s since resonated quite vividly. I picture my diaphragm and pelvic floor moving in tandem in the same way a jellyfish propels itself through the deep: smoothly, rhythmically, and beautifully. Something about the image seems more accessible than the count right now. Blub, blub, blub she goes…soft, smooth, and infinite. 

Blub, blub, blub, through the blue.
Blub, blub, blub, held by water.

After a while and once the flapping wings of my butterfly heart calm down, I open my eyes and lean forward, placing my forearms on my knees. My fingers and toes prickle as blood begins to pour back into them and the world around is light once more. I submit the recording to my doctor and slide my phone back in my pocket. I figure I ought to be heading in to get some water and rest, but then something catches my eye. What is that?

I scramble to my hands and knees and crawl to a tall, bright green growth reaching from the weeds. I trace my fingers down the delicate stems and carefully pull up. Oh my goodness. I start to laugh.

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I stand, holding the small carrot ball and look around. This bird’s eye view has allowed me to discover that several other plants have inched above the weeds reaching for sunlight, so one by one, I trace their stems and pull their roots gently from the ground.

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Brave, little root veggies. My goodness, I had no idea anything could’ve survived multiple hard freezes and certainly not beneath the heavy darkness that’s blanketed their space for so long. They may be small and oddly shaped, but boy they are phenomenal (and cute!) I suppose small specs of light can indeed penetrate darkness. Maybe it just requires a shift in perspective.


I spent much of the rest of this day reclined on the couch with a big glass of water while imagining whole blooms of jellyfish pulsing together through the deep. How strange it must be to pulse endlessly through the darkness…strange but oddly encouraging. Blub, blub, pulse, pulse, on and on they go. Infinite, rhythmic movement.

I imagined the proverbial weeds that often stretch themselves across me and how somehow, someway, light manages to get through. Sure, sometimes, that light goes undiscovered for a while, but it’s there. It is. And certainly it’s worth the blood, sweat, and pain to pull back the darkness and make way for more light. Just start in a corner and see what happens. Darkness breeds in neglect. I’d say, get in and get your hands dirty.

Even if you don’t find anything the first few times you start raking, digging, pulling, and brushing, the process is still wonderfully meditative—the re-examination of a familiar space that’s gone untouched for a while is so helpful for growth. Afterall, you can’t start a new garden without first tearing up and dealing with the old, deceased one. In that death and chaos lies life waiting to bloom and be discovered. 

Humidity. Healing.

Few places hold a torch when it comes to humidity intensity in the East Texas piney woods, especially after four straight days of early-summer rainfall. Breathing outside during dawn or dusk is like inhaling warm, invisible snot that sticks in little teardrop beads to every single part of you. It’s oddly sentimental though; growing up in SE Texas, the humidity is like a tight hug from your grandmother who always smells like home cooked something: noodles and pork chops, rosemary bread, brown gravy. Humidity like this can be embracing and comforting—a reminder that at the end of a long, stressful day, she’s here for you whether you think you need her or not.

Under a darkening, blue sky with broad, brush-stroked pinks and purples, grandmother humidity wraps herself about me as I close the barn door and secure the latch. I faintly hear hay crunching from inside: donkey dinner time.

This is a chore I’ve had for years now (the shuffling of donkeys into their shelter and distribution of their hay) and for the first time, it’s completely worn me out. I stand in front of the barn and lean my weight into the door for a moment to catch my breath, the damp air lining my lungs like teflon. My vision blurs and my heart hops heavily as I close my eyes and wait for the feeling of lightheadedness to pass. I’ve been ill—at times severely—over the past two months. It occurs to me that I’ve never been the kind of ill that causes such a profound loss of strength: my muscles having diminished to soft, wobbly blobs on my bones. King Ranch was right, it was probably too soon for me to bring the donkeys in alone…but I missed that part of my evening routine and insisted I give it a try. I see him now standing in the window watching me from the house, his face a mix of concern and I told you so.

I think I’m beginning to heal, but healing is a tricky thing. It’s not like illness, injury, or brokenness must come to a clean stop before healing can begin; I think there’s a lot of overlap. There are gains and losses between brokenness and healing. They toggle around: a tug-of-war that pulls one way, then another. Back and forth and back and forth as each side loses and gains strength, they fight to win you over.

Healing is a funny thing: her ability to be happening and not happening at the same time. Healing can be busy at work even when we don’t think she’s there but I also think we can control parts of our healing, too. Healing is like breathing: when you’re not thinking about it, healing involuntarily happens on her own but simultaneously, when you’re aware of it, you can either help healing or hinder her. You can decide to block healing by not letting go or being too afraid to look forward.

Of course, some things never fully heal and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Healing, as I’m imagining her as this personified ghost in our beings, is smart. I like that healing allows for some scars to stick around to remind you of the past…like if you were bullied in school, I think she leaves those memories there so that you can remember to be kind to others—that what we say and do to each other really does matter and it really sucks when you’re treated badly. She leaves scars over our hearts so we can remember how brave we once were and when life buries us with piles of uncontrollable circumstance, we can look down at the discolored scar and remember our bravery….our strength.

My vision finally clears itself of yellowish stars and through the heavy dampness, I begin what seems like a very long walk back to the house. Cicadas call from the treetops—their buzzing and clicking chorus an audible illustration of what the inside of my head and chest feels like. Everything is just so unfocused and fuzzy.

But a few days ago, I couldn’t make this walk on my own and yet, here I am. The bandages stuck to me itch in the humidity and I’m anxious to remove them soon to see what’s left in their place…but I still have some time before I can do that. Right now, I’ll take the itching, the pain, the frightening vulnerability and fear of infection all as parts of healing doing her job. It’s because of her that I got the donkeys in tonight and could run my fingers through their shedding fur. But now she’s telling me to go lay down. The beads of humidity roll down my arms and it almost feels as if grandmother humidity is pushing me back towards the house: all these forces telling me to take it easy.

We should listen to them: listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Intuition is a powerful thing.

I hear ya humidity. I hear ya, healing. I’ll go lay down now and try again tomorrow.

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Tiny Dots

It’s late. I’m not sure of the time, but it’s been night for a while—long enough for the dark to feel damp and for the scattered clouds to have a purple tint. In my jammies and boots without socks, I’m walking through the wet grass out to the barn where Bunny, Tee, and Baby Bodhi are likely resting.

With both hands, I slide open the barn door and flip the light switch just inside. Three sets of ears perk up high and like a burst of beautiful light, Bodhi leaps for me with his ears back and his tiny tail wagging. Bunny and Tee, from behind their stall door, begin to bray. Shaky, I kneel down and scratch Bodhi’s soft fur, his chin resting on my shoulder. He still smells like a baby.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen my sweet donkeys: I’ve relied on King Ranch and my parents to help care for them while I’ve been severely ill. In and out of the hospital and unsure of the time when I wake up from long rests, it’s been a blur of chills, lightheadedness, groggy sips of Gatorade, and much anxiety over what is happening in my tired body.

I stand, my head dizzy for a starry-eyed moment, before I open the stall door. Normally, Bunny and Tee race to reach me first (especially if it’s been some time since I’ve seen them) but tonight, they’re delicate in their approach. They know I’m unwell, I can see it in the wideness of their eyes and in the care of their steps. Bunny nips at my hair while Tee presses his head into my thigh. Bodhi stands against my other leg, his tail swishing from side to side.

In the dim barn surrounded by the quiet of night and warmth of my donkeys, I peer up at the light above which flickers with silhouettes of June bugs and moths. I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and surrender the walls I’ve taped up around my emotions to the midnight air. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve been this sick, at least not as an adult. And to complicate things, my pre-existing heart condition is succumbing to the stress and making my movements and presence tedious and difficult.  The good news is, I’ve seen a host of doctors and have seemingly turned a corner to see a light at the end of this dark, dank, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel where I’ve left a scattered trail of my weight, strength, and optimism.

I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I wanted to write about this but the thing is, I write to figure out my feelings. I have to spell out thoughts to see them straight—to remove them from the neon nebulous of my anxious mind where I don’t have a single train of thought, but rather, a bustling train station buzzing with people yelling in languages that I can’t understand.

I have a friend, a wonderfully talented novelist who bravely moved her life overseas and is one of the most inspiring people in my life. She writes her stories and essays in a way that transfers the reader to the front lines—to the smells and tastes of places they’ve never been—and the other night, she messaged me out of concern to check on my health. It’s been years since I’ve seen her in person, but across the world, her concern and love of my feelings made way for a platform to begin to explore my own understanding of the depth in which this aggressive illness has dug. In talking with her, my heart touched by her words (because she’s just the kind of person who can be so warm and empathetic, even oceans apart), I realized that in this illness, there have been moments where I have actually feared for my life…like really thought it might be over for me. I think this must have been the first time I truthfully and legitimately feared that my end might be near and although that moment is now in my distant and hopefully unreachable past, it’s left me in a strange, emotional place. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the swift severity of my condition left little room to feel like I had much of a fight. 

(To be clear, I am fine. I am going to be fine. There were just a few days in there where I really thought I might not be fine and those ripples are still splashing around pretty hard.)

As I stand here in the barn, these three donkeys doing everything in their ability to comfort me, I am overcome with…I don’t know what it is. Gratitude for sure, but something else. Purpose? Raw presence? I’m not sure. That very real fear has done something to me and even though I know I’m out of the thick of the threat, there’s this pulsing light from beyond my field of vision that’s reminding me of the fragility of all of this. It’s a blocked off area  that stays just beyond my sight with giant, red, boldface letters that says “RESTRICTED” because only those who are emotionally equipped to handle the reality of how temporary life is can enter without crumbling. This very human condition: that we are all momentary. 

Little Foot climbed up into bed with me yesterday and rested his curly head on my chest.

“Mommy,” he said, “I hear your heart going ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom.”

I twirled his hair between two of my fingers and said, “I think my heart is happy you’re here.”

And it was. It is. Oh my it is, my heart flips in my chest at the sight and even thought of my sweet, little boy. He’s barely three years old and already he helps me feed the animals, collect eggs from the chickens, tells me stories that are made up in his imagination, and reminds me that you don’t have to be of a certain age to really know how to love.

Bunny lowers her head and rests it against my chest. I wonder if she can hear my struggling heart, too. I look down to see tiny, damp dots freckling the donkey’s faces—my tears having dripped from my chin onto them. I think they’ve moved closer to me, the weight of their bodies giving me strength to stand even though I’m so, so tired.

On the shelf beside us is Tink’s bright blue halter. He was wearing it the day he passed. Little Foot asked about Tink for the first time in a while the other day (before I fell ill) and I told him that Tink died. I used those words….he died.  “But where did he go?” Little Foot asked with a puzzled look. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but I believe that even when people or animals die, they’re still out there somewhere in some way. I told him that I think they must be out beyond the stars, so maybe you can look up at night and see if anything up there reminds you of him and if it does, then he’s definitely still alive in your thoughts. Among all those twinkling, tiny dots are so much more than meets the eye, so look as hard and as often as you can. This seemed to satisfy him. He also asked if the slug that he accidentally stepped on the other day is up there, too, because he was very sorry that he smushed it, he just didn’t see it before he stepped. I told him that I’m sure the slug is up there.

After a while, I shuffle the donkeys back into their stalls, laying a kiss upon each of their heads, and close the barn door. Purple clouds glide across the sky which is nearly singing like a full choir with twinkling stars. So many tiny dots. I breathe in deeply, their light filling the broken parts of me, before exhaling deep gratitude, relief, and hope with a long sigh.

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Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed

The sun’s just come up on an already warm Monday morning, although it’s not been up long enough to burn the dew off of the un-mowed grass that’s slopping against my rubber boots. I’ve got the remainder of a roll of gauze in my hand, a disinfectant spray, and a small, black boot that was specially designed for Tink, my sweet mini donkey whose hoof (or rather, what remains of a hoof) is deformed due to profound mistreatment by his previous owner. Luckily, he was rescued by the organization in which I volunteer, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and in time, I became his over-the-moon adoptive mother.

Tink the mini donkey
Sportin’ his handsome boot.

As I walk across the backyard towards the gate that leads into the donkey’s pasture, I hear several long exhales that I know to belong to Bunny, my standard-sized donkey, who’s revving up for a bray because it’s been three days since I’ve seen her.

Late last night, I arrived back home from an exhilarating couple of days in Houston. Y’all know by now that Houston is my hometown—my folks still live there as do many of my dearest friends—and so really, any visit there is a treat…but this one was especially exciting. More on that later.

I open the gate and Bunny is running across the pasture in a full-on bray now—her nostrils are flared and ears are laying back and so as quickly as I can, I set the boot, the spray, and the gauze on the ground just in time to open my arms and catch her before she tackles me to the ground. She hits me hard, her large neck against my chest and her snout over my shoulder. Her tail is wagging furiously and as I wrap my arms behind her large head, she starts nipping at my hair.

Bunny and Me
Although this isn’t the greeting of THIS morning, this is how I’m so blissfully greeted everytime I go outside. My girl.

Home.

I scratch her ears and run my hands down all her legs to check for ticks or mites as Tee and Tink make their way towards us. They may not greet me with the enthusiasm that Bunny does, but their wide eyes and wagging tails are more than enough to pull at my bleeding-heart’s strings.

As I’m dressing Tink’s hoof, my three remaining adoptable donkeys wander up to the fence, their ears perked up in curiosity, and I remember just then that in only a few days, I’ll be saying goodbye to two of them, Maybell and Sue (a mother/daughter pair whose new family will be picking them up later this week.) Oof. Being swept up in the excitement of the weekend, I’d briefly forgotten that I’m within days of saying good bye, and so after I finish up with Tink, I go to them.

I’ve had Maybell and Sue since mid-March which has been just enough time to really grow attached to them. I rub their faces and let them lean on me and it’s then that I realize I’m grappling (and even struggling) with the concept of impermanence. It’s a growing weight that I try to mentally avoid but, hoo boy, here it comes.

In just a few, short days, I’ll say goodbye to Maybell and Sue and in all likelihood, will never see them again. These two who I’ve cared for so deeply—I’ve cleaned their hooves and brushed their hair and fed them and given them medicine when they’ve needed it. Now that will be someone else’s job. As one who fosters rescue donkeys, this is part of it and I know that. It’s not easy, though. Never is. 

It’s daunting, isn’t it? When you really stop to think about how temporary everything—all of this—really is? How quickly winter turns to spring, turns to summer, and your infant son is somehow already two years old and speaking in sentences and you’ve found a lone-wolf, gray hair right, smack-dab in the middle of your hairline. Your spring garden has burnt to a crisp under the Texas sun and geeze-louise, my dumb birthday’s looking right at me again with mocking eyes. Weren’t you just here?

I give Maybell and Sue each a pat on the nose before heading back towards the house. Little Foot will still be asleep in his toddler bed, likely above the covers and holding onto his orange, stuffed lion and also in the house (and as a cherry on top to my most excellent weekend in Houston), I brought back up north with me to visit for a few days, The Unicorn. Remember her? If not, here’s her story. She’ll still be sleeping too, I imagine. We had a late night last night and I want to have coffee made before she wakes.

Temporariness. Oof.

On our drive yesterday, The Unicorn and I were reveling in the years that have passed since we met which lucky for us, we know the exact date: January 5, 2010. I kid you not, we shook hands for the first time that day and static-shocked each other and since, we’ve been the closest of friends. Seven years, in fact. In a lifetime, that probably isn’t much, but I can remember that day we met like it was just moments ago. And it’s been a fruitful seven years.

It’s so fast. It’s all just so fast.

Us
This is the Unicorn and me at Houston’s Pride Festival, June 2012.

The coffee’s brewing now in the kitchen, trickling and beginning to smell wonderful and outside the front window, our rooster, Bowie, is crowing. I’ve decided it’s a myth that roosters crow only in the morning—Bowie crows all day every day. Tucker, our dog, has curled up at my feet and I’m picking away at the red nail polish that’s chipping from the ends of my fingernails. I rarely paint my nails but I decided to while in Houston this weekend because, well, it was one of the coolest weekends imaginable.

About that: I had a VIP ticket to An Evening with Neil Gaiman that would be performed at the Brown Theater and with said ticket, I’d get a chance to meet Neil himself. And I did. So I’d painted my nails.

That was some major temporariness…my VIP ticket-holding status…though I liked that I held something that considered me a “Very Important Person.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a VIP to anything before. Perhaps my wedding, once upon a time. The bride, I suppose, is one of the wedding’s VIPs.

Thrilling and unbelievably meaningful as it was to me to get to meet one of my very favorite authors, it was over before I realized what sort of anxious nonsense was pouring out of my mouth like a busted dam in a hurricane during my brief opportunity to speak with him. *Facepalm.* I was just as wide-eyed and waggy-tailed as my donkeys that night. Although, even in normal conversation with people for whom I’m very close, I tend to babble and tangent off to strange places, usually about how much I love donkeys and yoga and pizza and bluegrass bands, so at least it was genuine. 

Whether or not I made as ass out of myself (hey, in my world, y’all know being an ass is a compliment *badum tiss*) is not what I’m concerned with…it’s how quickly that one, extremely gravitational moment that I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life was over like that. Neil Gaiman is one of the people who has shaped who I am and really, still striving to become, and I had the pleasure of being able to meet him and try in my most awkward way possible to tell him that. Then like the bubbles that Little Foot and I play with in the yard, it popped and that moment was gone and now I’m chipping the paint from my nails. That’s really, really difficult for me swallow.

But isn’t all of it hard to swallow? The fleetingness of everything? Of growing up and saying goodbye and being able to spend  what seem like finger-snaps of time with people who mean the world to you? The seasons and storms and sunrises and every little moment where your heart beats so heavily that you can’t really hear anything else? It’s so difficult for me to comprehend the vacuum that’s left once it’s ended.

I guess that’s a place we can all connect, though. There’s that silver lining. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, you’ve had to say goodbye to someone. You’ve had to grow up (in one way or another). You’ve hurt and you’ve thrived and you’ve tripped and you’ve soared. You’ve been scared and been brave and when you come to, you only see it in your rearview bouncing around with all the other colors and shapes of your past.

I think the coffee is finished brewing and just now, Little Foot has started to chat in his room, probably with the same stuffed lion that he usually holds onto at night, and so in a moment, I’ll go retrieve him and his curly, little head. He’ll soon not talk to his stuffed animals, so I don’t want to interrupt.

In the meantime, I guess all of this to say that intimidating and downright terrifying as temporariness can be, it can also be very sweet and heart-tugging to recall events in our memories. Like, when I look at photos of Little Foot as an infant, I choke up and remember how the top of his head smelled like toast for the longest time. When I go into my saved voicemails and replay the birthday message my late grandfather left me five years ago, I can see his aging yet perfect smile in my mind’s eye. I remember mine and the Unicorn’s spark when we shook hands. I remember King Ranch’s brown eyes flooding over in tears when I told him I was pregnant. I’ll never forget how trusting Maybell and Sue have become of me and every time Bunny nearly tackles me with excitement, my heart grows a bit. I’ll never forget having the privilege of meeting Neil Gaiman and even though I didn’t remotely articulate my gratitude to him, I hope that he got the sense that he means a whole lot to me.

The Unicorn and I are planning to take Little Foot to the library today. We’ll nuzzle into the same corner that Little Foot and I do every week with a stack of books only this time, I’ll get to watch my friend read him a story. I’ll get to hold onto that image for a very long time and I’m sure that it’ll be just as sweet every time I recall it.

Temporariness isn’t that bad when you think about it like that, I suppose…when you think about it as the decorations in your memory. The art hanging on your mind’s walls. It means you’ve got room to fill your present with just about anything you want and you know you can look back and see how the rest of it has brought you to where you are now. And right now, I’m gonna get some coffee, go peek at my chatting kid, and try to memorize the sound of his little, perfect voice. That would be a painting I’d hang right in the middle of it all.

Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed
Me deciding that temporariness isn’t that bad. Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed, indeed.