Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Have Heart; Will Travel
I have forsaken the elderly and the infirm and traveled to be at the side of the brokenhearted. My serene cell-sized room in St. Paul is home base for a few days while I tend to my daughter.
I remember heartbreak. I remember that the morning after I got the news that my marriage was over three friends took off work to take me out for breakfast; that my daughters seemed to take turns watching over me. C. was working in Nova Scotia, but if M. left me alone at home, she was barely out the door when C. would give me a call. The phone rang relentlessly then. Dinner with friends on their backyard deck, the scent of roses on weekend afternoon patios, "no, this one's on me," and "hey, I have an extra theatre ticket," and "how would you like to learn to play poker?" There was an avalanche of care and kindness.
So here I am. A different sort of St.Paul fix-it trip. Hearts are trickier than remodeling a closet though. Much more complicated than a coat of paint. Taking a door off its hinges is child's play compared to closing up the fissure of heartbreak. Heartmending is like building a ship in a bottle, or painting a cityscape on a grain of rice. It's slow and close, and sometimes the tools have to be improvised.
Meanwhile in Maryland, bones continue to mend without me. My brother can get in and out of his recliner without anyone to counterbalance his walker. He can hobble down his back steps to the gazebo. My mother is buoyed by a visit with her sisters. I'm already planning my next trip back there. She and I will go to Baltimore for her treatments, and if she has the energy, I will treat her to a shiny new hearing aid.
But before any of that, there will be California. Three or four years ago I dreaded each return. When the plane pierced L.A.'s layer of haze, the bird's-eye view of the geography of my marriage had me asking where I could escape to next. The terrain is different now.
In a courthouse in downtown Los Angeles there is a signed document that tells me what is mine, and what I have lost. And in my heart there's a smoothed-over place where loss is no longer the defining feature. There's a little paper drink umbrella in that spot now. Love is dozing under it, humming a tune, feet propped up.
The man who loves me will be returning to L.A. a day or so before me. It'll be him I see through the smog when the City of Angels reveals itself. And some emerald summer when my daughter flies into the Twin Cities she might see that the Mississippi curves in a way she never noticed before, or that a certain configuration of lakes and trees seems different somehow and more beautiful than she remembered.