I went out for a walk. Not too far, just out to get some matches and a couple of sodas for me and the boy to drink at our evening mother and son anime-fest. As I descended the steps that lead to the shortcut home, all of a sudden filled with an immense and overwhelming fear and panic, that came out of nowhere and hit me like a freight train, or a truck, drifting over the meridian and into the path of the 26ft Beastie that had nowhere to go except the cliffs, or worse, the sea. The panic drifted over the line of my centering, my balance, my fragile ability to cope.
When I left I didn’t have big plans, I didn’t ask for much, I didn’t hope for more than me and Billy, a trailer, some safety, my children. I received both more and less than I had hoped for. I had hoped for twenty years with my old friend, perhaps a small holding somewhere lush, a few sheep and goats, a good dog. An aga wood burning stove. I had hoped to grow my own food; I wanted a little garden, some beans, zucchini, perhaps a few melon plants for summer sweetness. Maybe some pumpkins to make autumnal soup and risottos. Some medicinal herb plants to indulge my witchy leanings. A hawthorn for blood pressure, some mugwort for my stomach, a little Abraham’s Balm to cool middle aged womanhood. A small basket to gather my supplies in. A dreamcatcher in the apple tree. A sweet almond to shake its fruit onto the ground. A little pastoral heaven. An Eden to return to. I longed for a little life! I should have known I would not have been allowed to live in such pastoral quietude!
Me and Billy used to look at things we would like for our little 5 acre plot of our dreams. He chose alcohol. He kept us running. He made excuses not to work, not to work at a future. If he had no intention of a future, just of dying slowly and making me watch, he should have left me be. Or maybe not. I don’t even know anymore. It is complicated. I had no other offer of a way out of Tokyo. I had no other way to safety. No other place to go. No other support. I do not regret the road, nor resent it. I look back at those years with at least partial affection: there was solidarity out there. I had a partner. Back up. Someone to hold my hand. The illusion of safety in numbers. My entire family. A vague false hope that it would all be ok for us in the end, that there was a path to that small holding and a good dog, and my misplaced desire for pastoral peace and fecundity. I wanted another baby desperately before I got too old. Of course that never happened. I misplaced one instead of gaining one. I wanted my garden to flourish, and instead it all withered away, rotten, however vibrant and green and fresh it all looked on the outside, it was rotten at the roots. Billy never was capable of being anyone’s partner in anything except self-destruction. I was blind. I couldn’t see it. I was clutching at straws.
There was the bottle. Amber and gold. Tricking off the bones and disappearing down gullets, swirling in glasses, mixing up the bad medicine and pulling down everything I held dear…and it wasn’t even mostly me doing the drinking. Chasing him down an ethanol rabbit hole, like a sea-sick Alice was not the best idea that I have ever had. There were the white lines. There was the illusion of love. There was real happiness sometimes.
The peace that is gained from sitting around a campfire in the inky blackness of a forest night, feeding the flame, playing some music, talking and feeling safe within the circle of its glow is an ancient birthright. I felt connected. The plains and the mountains, the rocks and the waterfalls, the rivers and the stones, the sea and the crumbling highway 101: I hate to sound clichéd, but I got plenty lost, and found myself once again.
So as I walked down the steps and heard Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car coming from the backpack of an older gentleman, his face soft and kind and gentle, I had to say something. That song. That song was the song of those years. My old man was “living with the bottle” as Tracey puts it so eloquently, “that’s the way it is…” she softly continues. Resigned. “Won’t have to drive too far…finally see what it means to be living…”…the words mocked me. His body was too young to look like his. Someone had to take care of Billy. It was me for a while. He could not look after himself.
“Hey…l-l-l-l-lovely song…b-b-beautiful….” I stammered..”It is real,” the gentle-faced man replied. “I play it whenever I can, I play it out ‘here'” – he moved his hand expansively to denote the streets of San Francisco. “It is REAL, people need to hear it, they need to hear it is real….Tracy Chapman…” he said…”Talkin’ About a Revolution” I replied, in that way people have of saying to each other “I see you!” I see a real mensch, a human being who feels and cares and suffers. Life is hard! Life is easier together. I started to explain to him that a loved one of mine drunk himself to death, and embarrassingly started to cry. I could not stop it. The tears poured down my face as I started to tell him that my dear friend had recently died and that song reminded me of him. We spoke a while about the way things are. The suffering, the striving, the pain and the sorrow, and how people sometimes let other people that they love down. They don’t mean to: it’s just the way it is.
It might just be the way it is, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Sometimes we all need to tell each other that you and me, we will make it through this malaise, this pain, this suffering dirty old world, and though none of us get out of here alive, because you help me, because your help matters, and you are capable, you are strong , you are balanced and good and mine, you are loved…..and not just by me.
We need a revolution of love and understanding, empathy and compassion before it is all too late. Some of us matter more than others in ways that are inherently unfair. Our odds are stacked. There is no redress, there is a war, a struggle a fight, and we all deserve a more equal share.
So, whether serendipity, a message from the afterworld, a sign that love doesn’t die and is merely transformed and purified, or just a sweet older gentleman who loves Tracey Chapman, doesn’t really matter. What matters is the significance we put into these random events that seem to tell us that there is something more, something other, something bigger than us and the little circles we turn that make ripples in the universe.
Sunday passes peacefully. I am hoping for rain, remembering a time when I prayed for it to stop raining on me and my children, and ease up so the water didn’t fall on us as we tried to sleep and the drumming on the tin roof and the canvas of the tent kept me awake and made the walls close in on my happiness and escape.