Here’s a string of events: in less than a week, two encounters with the Law; three dead animals (not counting the gull from “Impaired”); one dream of a marriage proposal in the closet; one nightmare about an impossible writing deadline; and an unusual run of clumsiness (bumps and scrapes).
Encounter with the Law 1:
I’m driving home in my coastal town at 11 pm, which means that all the streets are post-apocalypse empty. Big sky filled with stars, but otherwise no lights. Then suddenly, as I’m pulling up to my cottage, my rear view mirror explodes with red-white-blue lights and I almost lose it, my bladder control, that is. So maybe I did fudge a stop sign back there in my rush to get to the toilet. All cooperation, I put the car in park, grab my license and registration, open the door and step out, and a tall skinny kid in uniform screams out in a shrill voice, “Get back in the car, ma’am! Back in the car!” Easier said than done when you’re about to wet your pants. I get back in the car and roll down the window. I’ve got my niece-the-filmmaker in the passenger seat and already working this into a scene for her project in progress. The guy’s now standing next to my window and asking to see my papers and starts the guessing game. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “No sir, I don’t.” “I pulled you over for two reasons. Do you know what they are?” “No sir, I don’t.” “I’m wondering if you’re driving impaired.” “IMPAIRED?!? Meaning?” “Meaning you’ve been drinking.” “Hardly,” I snap at him. “I’ve got a leaky bladder and if I don’t get into the house this minute this car’ll be impaired.””Well, ma’am, I don’t know about that, but I’ll try to make this quick.” He hustles goes back to his car to check my papers. I have to make small talk to keep my mind off the rising waters. “You’re new here, aren’t you, sir?” “No, I’ve been here over a year.” “Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen you in the twenty-five years I’ve been living here.” “OK, ma’am. So you kind of cruised through that stop sign back there.” “Yes, sir, I know: it’s on account of my leaky bladder.” “Sorry ma’am. And your license light is out.” “I know, sir. It’s been out since my Jack Russell terrier chewed through the electrical system and we haven’t been able to get it working since then.” “Sorry ma’am. No problem. Just thought you’d want to know, ma’am.” “May I get in the house now, sir?” “Yes ma’am.” “Thank you, sir.” And on that, we parted ways, and the night was once again dark, mysterious, and ripe for metaphysical speculation.
I leave my poodle in the parked car, windows open, while I’m in yoga class. It’s early in the morning, and the street is in heavy shade. Ninety minutes later I’m back in the car and the phone rings. “Officer Mumble Mumble: we’ve had a report of a dog in distress in your car. Just wanted to let you know I checked and the dog’s not in distress.” “Thank you, Officer Mumble Mumble.”
Three dead animals:
two field mice in the garden and one fat old mole on the steps to the street. All three are composting now in the compost bin provided by the city and waiting for pick up next Tuesday.
Marriage proposal in the closet (dream):
The New York Public Library has never been as extravagant, as labyrinthine, as I made it out in my dream. I added several more stories , filled them with amazing, cavernous ballrooms, auditoria in the Moorish style, club rooms , glorious staircases, marble and leather and velvet everywhere, stained glass, marquetry, columns, mirrors, ornate frames, paintings, ingenious connecting passageways, beveled glass… in a word: a dreamscape of enchanting beauty. I am looking for something, running late, and I dash into my room (which somehow is somewhere in this architectural ensemble), dive into my closet for a change of clothes, and suddenly (!) a man appears and falls on his knees, and he’s asking me to marry him.
Thrilled and without thinking I say, “YES!” And then I immediately regret it, because I can see marriage to this man stretching into a tedious future of polite pretense, but it’s already impossible to revoke that “Yes.” And besides, the deadline for the piece I’m supposed to be writing is ten hours away and I’ve only just started it, and I’ve no idea what to say. When I wake up, I feel oddly at peace with the world, especially because the air is fresh and crisp the way it is in the ripeness of summer, promising a very hot day.
And now, to the main attraction:
The telephone call comes after nearly a month of silence. He wants to know when I’m scheduling ankle surgery so that he can come and take care of me, as I had cared for him when he had fractured his ankle five years ago. I appreciate his generosity and concern and blame myself for the suspicion that wells up that his offer might not be entirely selfless, but might be motivated by his own agenda. Nota bene: he makes an offer of help. I hear his offer of help as a request for help.But he never asks me for help. So that request might be all in my head only. Or not.
I listen carefully to the tone of his voice (formal, guarded) and the context of the conversation in which the offer is embedded (the chronic concerns with finances and love), and I am drawn again by the familiar impulse to hear his offer as a request for help and then to jump in and help. And at the same time, I am aware of a contrary impulse to back off, followed by the fear that failure to help might have terrible consequences, and that, in turn, leads to the thought that one should always help when one notices the impulse to help in oneself. In this explosion of emotions and thoughts, I apologize for having to cut the conversation short because I am about to be locked out of my yoga class.
It takes me 45 minutes to calm down, even with the guided breathing and the familiar moves of my practice. I can’t breathe. My body aches. My mind keeps slipping back to the conversation and tries to figure out what really happened in that conversation and what is the right response. And for the rest of the day, I bang my head against car doors, closet doors, the edges of tables, cabinet doors. Things are beating up on me and telling me, in the words of Ferlinghetti, “What’s on your mind? What do you have in mind? Open your mouth and stop mumbling.”
Here’s what I have in mind: I am not a service station.