Maybe because my body’s on the verge of turning into one, I’ve developed a fresh interest in ruins. After ten years of walking these hills, I find an abandoned road on the far side of the olive grove just up the hill from my house. I follow the faint ruts through an oak copse, my boots crunching the acorns underfoot. Some broken branches lie across my path, but otherwise, the going is smooth. There’s a touch of the sinister about the dark shadows beneath the heavy branches. Up ahead, where the thicket thins to a rash of broom, a deer is grazing. A pair of pheasants clatter up from the brush, startled by my curious poodle. And then, suddenly, around the bend, there it is: a sort of clearing, filled with a brilliant light, and the creamy yellow and warm sienna of old walls.
Up from my childhood floats the delicious feeling of entering a hidden, secret space, full of possibilities and promising free rein to the imagination. I can be anything here. I can feel the presence of the life that once flowed through these walls.
Brambles are growing up around the stones and I make my way carefully, carrying the small dog so he won’t snarl in the thorns or pick up burrs.Lizards scurry away into cracks. A bumblebee roars past my face on is way to the wild primrose poking out of last winter’s layers of leaves.
I think of Dorka, who died two weeks ago and is now two weeks into eternity, and how much I miss those daily calls to her and taking my little insights and experiences to her, and having her listen so attentively to what I have to say, and share her own thoughts, and then cap the conversation with a ripple of jokes and a reassuring verbal hug.
i then follow my thoughts to my daughter’s father who, though kind and generous and respectful to my mother, never allowed himself to develop the sort of close relationship with her that I cultivated with his mother. He does not call her, does not make frequent visits across town to her — or even infrequent visits when actually, it would be so easy for him to do so, and it would mean so much to her to be honored by him and accorded the attention and courtesies the relationship of son-in-law (even son-outside-of-law) to mother-in-law deserves.That neglect of his rankles me still, as much for the slight to my mother as to myself and his daughter.
And never in all these years has he shown my sister’s children — his daughter’s cousins — the consistent generosity and attention that he lavishes on the children of his wife’s sister. Aside from a shared holiday here and there — the Oregon coast, the South of France — nothing. And that pains me as well. I interpret that inattentiveness as a comment on my — and my blood relations’ — value. We are not valuable, not worthy of regard (in both senses: “being noticed” and “being taken seriously”) .
I thought of none of these things while poking around in the clearing in the oak wood. Then I was busy filling in the possibilities of rebuilding the roof, restoring the beautiful vaulted ceilings, patching the walls, putting glass in the windows, installing plumbing… electricity. The old garden still had some feral survivors: a woody rose, a sprawling prickly pear cactus, a grid of cypress, stone walls…