Thursday, May 26, 2011
Dreaming about tornadoes, I wake up and think: I ought to tell you that I love you now because the world is ending but the world is always ending. Tornadoes are everywhere. I grew up in tornado country and I know about bruise-colored clouds with funnels hanging down like dirty little fingers poking out of the sky. I dream about them more and more.
They are the perfect food for nightmares, so violent and fickle and specific. What other disaster picks its victims up with such malicious delicacy? They'll rip your neighbor's bedroom out of the ground and spread it over the next two counties and leave your kitchen immaculate, with the cat food in the bowl and the teaspoon in your favorite coffee cup. In the nightmares I'm always doing something else that seems important -- packing to leave town, arguing with a friend -- but once I see the tornado there's only the tornado. It's far away and then it's close and then it swoops down and slaps the glass out of the window like a hand to a face.
Wheatsville, yesterday, lunchtime, eating quinoa salad and hippie rootbeer outside on a bench. Two women are crossing the parking lot, bare legs shimmering under their skirts in heat of the first really hot day of summer and then there's that funny moment when you see that the stranger you're staring at is someone you know. I stand up and say Amy Jean's name and she and her friend walk over and that's also someone I know. Her name is Callie. The three of us lifted weights together for a while one summer.
I hug Amy Jean and Callie hugs me and everybody sits down. Amy Jean is at that point in being in love with someone wonderful and amazing where it's all she can really talk about, so we talk about it for a while. "It's crazy," says Amy Jean, who two years ago was getting divorced and buying a house and losing her stepfather to cancer. "I mean, I totally would have told you before that I knew what love was. I really thought I did, and this is just so much more incredible than I ever thought anything would have ever felt." They're moving to South America at the end of the summer.
This makes me hurt and smile because this is what you say when you're really in love, every time you're ever in love. It's always the first and the best and the last and the always. It is the best, always. It's supposed to be.
"I mean, I did tons of drugs in art school and none of them ever made me feel this good," Amy Jean says. "I feel totally not afraid and totally sane. Like really not afraid of anything. Like anything could happen, and I would still be good."
I say I remember that feeling, when C. and I were first together. "I remember thinking -- it was weird -- but that anything could happen. If he left me, even, I would be fine. I was that much better for ever having been in love like that. Before that being in love was always something really desperate and scary."
"Are you still together now?" Callie asks.
"Yeah." I've decided to keep the answers to these questions simple. I don't know if I'm being avoidant or polite or both.
"Almost eight years, I guess. Yeah."
"Are you still in love like that? I'm sorry, I guess it's a weird question. I just wonder lately if that's even possible. I don't know if you know, but my husband is leaving me."
Now I remember, yes, her hug was a little longer and tighter than I would have expect, a little skin-hungry. I say I'm sorry, which is still, after all these years, the only thing I know how to say.
"He left me for one of his students," Callie says. "One of his former students. She's twenty-two. I know, it's really bad. I'm that person. I never thought I'd be that person. My life is this dumb cliche."
I get that too. If love makes everything always new, heartbreaks make everything stupidly the same, even the fiercest of them, sucking the color and the shading out of everything. I am a stick figure, you are a stick figure and here we go its this bullshit again.
"I have times when I feel really good," Callie says. "Sometimes, like today, I think it's totally going to be OK and I'll find someone else and it will feel really good and this will be over."
"It will be like that," Amy Jean says, still lit up inside with new-love-true-love oozing over and she reaches across the table and touches Callie's hand. "It totally will be. You're going to find someone great and you're going to feel amazing."
Callie looks at Amy Jean and then at me.
"Well, I mean," I say. "It isn't like that all the time. It doesn't stay like that forever. But it's not like somebody pulls a plug in a bathtub and it all drains away either, you know? It has its cycles. It dies back for a little bit. You can have a bad season, a few bad seasons. But hopefully there's something under there, like a good roots system, and it comes back over and over and actually it is pretty amazing. Yeah."
Amy Jean is nodding and smiling and drifting away. You can't really hear this kind of thing when you're in love and everything is new. You're not supposed to. All that oxytocin is wiping your brain clean like a wet cloth on a chalkboard so you can bond and have tons of sex and raise babies. She excuses herself and goes into the store and Callie and I sit on the bench a while longer watching the parking lot shimmer like it's all a mirage or else something projected on a sheet that any second could be whisked away to show us what's behind.
"It's been hard, honestly" Callie says. "It's been really hard. Some days I feel alright, but other days are just, whatever. What kills me is thinking, you know, we are still actually married. I am his wife. I don't even know where he's staying. He's with her, wherever they are. Driving around inmy car, that I paid for."
"That is really awful."
"I am so sad."
"You have a right."
We sit for a bit and then I start telling her about this book I was reading on shamanism, this part about initiations. There was one initiation ritual -- I want to say it's Siberian or Inuit, somewhere really cold -- where they take you out and strip your clothes off and leave you in the snow to die. What they tell you is that demons are coming to eat all the flesh off your bones. And they make a prayer for you that all the demons come and every part of you gets eaten. You freeze almost to death and then they come back and get you and thaw you out and if you make it back you come back with all these powers but only over the demons that ate you. Because you can't heal any pain you haven't felt.
"That makes sense," Callie says.
Amy Jean comes back outside and we talk for a while about something else. Everybody stands up to go.
"Hey," Amy Jean says. "I heard you were moving. I completely forgot."
"I am moving."
"A few weeks. I'm feeling good about it. This town and I are in a dry season."
"It's beautiful there, right?"
"It is. The river is about five minutes from my new house."
We all hug goodbye for who knows how long and we all promise that they will come to see me and we will go rafting. I hope it works out.