Scars But No Regrets
My husband and I were making progress renovating our new house. Well, "new" was stretching it. If this house was a rescue dog it would be a senior---and even that was a stretch since it was almost 100 years old. But it was home.
It wasn't home like where I had grown up, that place where my brother Allen and I ran and played in the endless rains of summer; where in winter we built forts of white and tumbled through the drifts like glacial stones. In snow gear of jeweled hues we played until we were forced to come in; harnessing the earth's energy, keeping our childhood alive.
It was hard yet rewarding work. But I enjoyed laboring alongside my husband, pulling cabinetry out of the wall, taking tools and making them do what I needed, the sweat on my forehead reaching my mouth, tasting of who I am, someone who's worked hard for everything she's got---someone who will raise some sweat to keep it. When I bought that place it needed a lot of work, like bathroom fixtures and an updated kitchen; and I did most of the work myself. I worked late into the nights alone, too many nights using leverage to swing the tools---but at times it seems like there were two of us, the tools and I working side by side like familiar lovers who can guess each other’s moves, hearts speaking to one another in musical measures beyond the need for words.
Some of the work I was proud of; some of it made me thankful for throw rugs and large pieces of art. But like farm living it kept me centered, close to the ground, to the earth and blood and fluid need in all things. It also honed my swearing in Norwegian, for which my grandfather would be proud.
The tools I have are old and precious to me, some given by friends, some from home. Tools my Dad used to craft the fence around his own house, the detailed and geometrically perfect cabinets in his garage. Tools that have stood the test of time, held by three generations; tempered by fire and heat to be strong under stress and having enough flexibility to get out of corners and swing freely as needs arise. Just as he raised us to do.
I learned about hard work early on, facing it like battle to which you carry ancient wounds. You can't live on a farm or a ranch without learning about hard work. I spent ten years as a young bride living such a life with my former husband so long ago. I know the signs of impending birth in a heifer. I know how to cut a single longhorn from a herd of fifty with nothing but an ATV and a dog, all while avoiding the pointy ends. I didn't compare nail polish colors with my girlfriends, because long fingernails sort of get in the way when you might have to grease a cupped hand and naked arm with Betadine and lubricant to help a breached calf make its way into the world. I've fallen face first in stuff you don't want to know about and cried like a child to find a calf still and cold after I spent two days nursing her after her mama died.
It wasn't Green Acres; though I think we had their house. It had nothing to do with Norman Rockwell and everything to do with the hundreds of different ways a heart can freeze.
It was a valuable lesson in life. Hard work, hard decisions, made on evenings like that one years later as I worked away at my home, listening to the sound echo in an empty house, learning about life and love with all the salt and truth one can expect from the swing of a hammer. It taught me more than how when physics and your thumb meat your thumb will lose; it taught me about budgets and planning, woods and nail and drywall. It taught me what I have the capability for, and it taught me to dream the dreams of a child again.
As my husband and I pulled an old decaying lattice away from the side of our house, I had to stop and sort my words as memories came unbidden---color, movement, shape. The first was of my mom bending over the garden, helping my dad weed; a good woman over whom death had already cast its shadow as surely as the apple tree shading her that day. Around her our rescued wiener dog mix Pepper pranced around in play, barking joyously. Standing there in that barren flower bed a lifetime later I could still smell her perfume on the air; I could hear that bark and the remembrance of the fluid movements of her hands in the soil was as real to me as a tide. Steady, gentle, certain.
I think back to the days on the farm, to another house, and I remember not the hard times but the good. I remember the last winter there, when I helped a neighbor pull a reluctant calf from his mother's womb. If I close my eyes I can relive that next moment in which I ceased to breathe myself as the calf did not. In that moment all I could I hear were the tiniest sounds, the fairy feet of barn mice and the creak of a rafter. Then in a rush of indignation came the mighty and protesting bawl of that newly-born bull calf, his cries from a birth-wet mouth awaking something in his weary mother who lay so still there under the dark moon, both of us totally spent from the effort. I still can picture his trusting eyes fixed on her as she rose up to sniff and take him in with that wonderful snuffling rush of new found love.
Our memories are not the house we live in. They are inside of us and all of them, the laughter and sharing of friends, all of the fun and adventures that will follow you. Home is the pillow on which you lay your dreams, brought out with just a word, a sure and steady gentle touch.
Tomorrow will be the long drive home, after a long week of work. When I get there it will just be getting dark. I will replenish supplies, taking out an empty dog food sack to the trash. The driveway will lie in a placid warm slumber, silent under my feet. I'll pull closed the back door, looking at land that holds neither corn nor cows, seeing the rise of another old house in the distance as I begin a clog-stomping run back onto the porch. The chilling night air whistles through my shirt, tickling skin, scorching my bare cheeks and the back of my throat.
Inside the door where the mailman pushed it through lies a letter from a foreign land, the handwriting looking almost like him---slender and strong and focused. I can almost smell the scent of gin and tonic as I tear open the envelope and drink in the words. Those words are water to me, the paper a quiet pool, myself merely one of those little water bugs that lie not quite on the surface nor beneath it---but in that quiet line of demarcation that is neither water nor air, earth nor heaven; exposing to the outside world only what is necessary to draw breath and hope.
Soon, there in that house I never expected to be, it is time for bed. There on the nightstand is a dried maple leaf, a candle, a couple of framed photos. I lie back across the edge of the bed, naming off each vertebra; looking upward as my body stretches downward, long red hair trailing to the floor like a line of fire. On the floor is an empty dog bed. Perhaps it’s time for another dog, I think. I smile up at stars that glitter like mica through the window, at unheard poetry that hides on the dark side of the moon, at the sun that warms another pillow far away; thankful for the journey here, however painful.
I may have my scars, but I have no regrets.