Way #2: Strut to the neighborhood crossroads in slacks and a button-down with tall, spring green palm fronds emerging from the collar, encircling your head and framing your face, like that fellow from last Wednesday around 4:00 pm. Go about your business at the local shops as though it were customary to sport fresh flora. Be regal, be purposeful, carry conviction. And make swift turns so that the palm fronds echo your movements like back-up dancers, or a loyal school of fish.
They say the brown bear has the strength of nine men and I say, in that case, he’s more like a woman. The closest ancestor to the short-nosed brown bear made his way southward from North America, freed by the formation of the isthmus of Panama during the Miocene epoch, in what I imagine was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s own deft, creative hand at spinning magic from evolutionary realism, carving homo sapiens from chimpanzees, painting grassy plains over forest, forging ambitious mountains ranges as an impatient toddler might: forcing tectonic plates together until they capitulate, crack, flake, and fold upwards towards the sky like majestic saltine crackers. At some point in this fruitful chaos, an exponentially-great-grandfather of the brown bear, Ursus arctos, made his way across the plains, step by muted step, traversing continents just before Pangaea divorced itself and scattered in large pieces across oceans.
Just as the aboriginal Ainu of Japan emptied the bear skull of eyeballs, tongue, and brain, so I stuff the rickety skeletons of life’s traumas with fresh flowers, succulent berries, the stuff of renewal and rebirth, in the hopes of a revitalized incarnation, in a show of divine acknowledgement.
I keep faith in the healing power of hibernation: low and slow in body temperature and heart rate, I rouse for no one, not even for myself. At the conclusion of those episodes I regurgitate the half-million moths my ursidae brethren swallowed before sleeping, calories aflutter, that keep our organs aloft and keep the blood pumping during these Great and Cyclical Slumbers.
Over the years, Nana developed a penchant for ivy, and eventually the motif swallowed the ground floor, repeated from wallpaper to carpet to stencilling to the fake plastic garlands that hung over doorways. Where it was possible to put gold leaf, Nana put gold leaf, and mirrors covered at least one face of each room. Statuettes cluttered every surface beyond the reach of children: angels, Jesus-in-the-manger scenes, fruit and bread baskets, gold, pearl, silver, ceramic, you name it… In youth, opinions and attitudes are simply delivered to you, without your consent. When love is present before self-awareness ripens, when you find yourself yoked indelibly to someone with flawed character, you realize that it’s possible to love a person for their failures and faults, without loving the faults themselves. Think of your parents, whose social or political views may seem to you narrow or outdated. Think of the partners who simply don’t see things the way you do, sometimes, and of the work it takes to reach around those differences and love each other anyway.
I’d learned the basics, how to guide the boat up and down the lake, and how to get out of irons. The instructor announced that our next lesson would be the climax of the series: how to right a capsized boat. I had come to adore sailing, but I thought he was crazy–we would capsize the boat on purpose? Create a catastrophe in the middle of the lake just to (try to) fix it? Was this some kind of Navy drill? Had I been drafted? Was this necessary? At my desk this week, hands shaking uncontrollably above my keyboard, I likened my state to a capsized sailboat; I’d tipped over a bit too far, it seemed, and now found myself somehow upside down under water, trying to figure out how to right myself again. From underneath the surface, without oxygen, light filtered through brown muck, every normal thing is pressurized, every mundane task, every movement a thousand times heavier, a thousand times more difficult. Everything is scary, and the accumulation of fears starts to hurt, and starts to wear, and takes its toll.
Over the last five or six years, my constellation has expanded, the points of light farther flung, moving ever outward. But the weight, the gravity of the galaxy remains. There is no escaping yourself. Recent chapters of my life have seen travel like I hadn’t expected, but that I embraced with the zeal of a child offered an unexpected dessert–that’s for me?!–probably undeserving but jumping at the opportunity, spoon poised for attack, in knowing haste. I’ve seen my fair share of visa-related riots, people crowded around the speaker panel, lunging towards the glass and banging with their fists, arms outstretched, frantically waving white paper visa applications like so many seagulls flitting madly around a dumpster, shouting at the tops of their lungs about trips that should have started 3 days ago, and the ineptitude of the staff and the obscene processing delays.
I don’t know exactly when she fell ill, or when she shared the news. Home from Washington D.C. one summer, I mailed her a hand-written letter, an ode to all she had taught me about being a woman, lessons that have nothing to do with fashion or babies, nothing to do with demurring or apologizing, nothing to do with high heels or perfume. In a fit of adoration, I had painted a paperback-sized canvas with acrylics, and sent it with the letter: a single tulip in a slender vase, set behind a brownie on a small white plate.