As I sit down to write this, I have to stop: why was I so upset the other day?
There are many reasons now.
I was supposed to go to my sister’s birthday (masked, masked), but I had woken up afraid, and two meditations had not touched my fear. I cuddled up in my blankets.
I didn’t want to hear about people of legend, or hear the words of the liturgy, though they are sacred to me. That morning I felt when I heard them, they crumbled to dust.
Why was I in pain? Domestic terrorists attack the capitol. What will happen next.
I thought, if anyone mentions the attack to me at birthday gathering, I will lose it, scream and drive away.
Parts of my family are politically aligned with me, but not everyone. That’s what families are for, right?
I grabbed my sister’s present and started the drive to Kansas City.
I realized I had forgotten my granola bar. I was hungry. I turned the car around to go to the bagel place. The bagel place was closed. Okay, I would go to the bakery. The bakery had nothing but plain croissants left.
I drove to Kansas City. My body was a blank, my mind was a blank, both overloaded with fear and anger.
The road to Kansas City is K-10. As I recently mentioned to my niece, the K is for Kansas. The yellow flower it’s on is a sunflower, the Kansas flower.
As I was almost at the place to get on K-10, a bright red bird suddenly swooped into and out of my vision.
It startled me like cold water. I felt in my body, and the numbness lifted. On a January day, when everything as far as the eye can see is a shade of brown, a red bird. I see a lot of hawks on that drive. They sit up at the tops of trees, or on road signs, like the Tom Cruises of K-10. That smile.
I got to my sister’s birthday, and everyone was hugely warm and happy, like people who know they need something happy, and by God, they are going to have it. They are going to mine it out of the mountains. The party was pirate themed, everyone wore an eye patch. In my depressed haze, I had forgotten to bring my pirate hat or parrot. It was the first time in my life I had arrived at a costume party uncostumed. I’m the person who shows up at uncostumed parties in costume.
There was a chest full of treasure, and someone had made this pirate trivia game for us to play, earning dubloons for correct answers.
This, bodily, how was it? This was stepping into the space with the indoor pool, being immediately engulfed in warmth, softness, joy.
I went with it.
I thought, this is why we need each other.
I kept thinking about the red bird and how weird it was. I like to use animals to think about how I’m feeling, or where I am in my life, but I was not expecting that bird at all.
I remembered a friend had said that she sees a cardinal and knows her grandpa is with her. I remember another friend who sees owls and knows people who have died are there.
I’m not really a bird person.
Monday night I heard that the little dog I’ve been hanging out with, while I care for my nieces, was going to be put to sleep. He was one of the good guys. We need him.
I drove out to the house, dreading the sadness of opening the door and not having the pup wag his tail and bound down the stairs, thrilled to see me.
Instead my niece opened the door. She is doing school at home today. She had a new, more grown-up haircut, and she was wrapped up in a blanket.
“Can I give you a hug?” I said.
“I never refuse a hug!” she said. Hugs are still dangerous. But.
I went downstairs to the room where I close the door, de-mask, and work. A record player was on the floor, with Carole King’s “Tapestry” sitting on the turntable. I lifted the needle. I was already crouching on the carpet, and after starting the record, I lay down in a ball, my legs folded under me, my head resting on the floor. The pressure on my head was nice. Yesterday and today, I woke up with a tension headache behind my eye, before I even had time to do anything stressful.
The record played “It’s Too Late.” And “Home Again.”
This album was my aunt’s. She has had dementia for the past few years. It’s been a long time since she said my name, or her daughter’s. Anything but certain song lyrics.
And things were shit, but you know the feeling of being where you are, and the outside feeling just like the inside, even if the inside and outside are painful?
That was it. And the carpet was soft.
Images are cut and pasted from “Red Bird, from the Series Birds of America” for Allen & Ginter cigarettes brands, 1888.