Misty rain this morning, soft, refreshing. I feel like a cucumber in the produce aisle. The raindrops have transformed flowers and leaves into crystalline wonders, decked out in pearls and lace. I couldn’t help taking a few pictures on my hike up the hill interrupted midway by catching a ride with G. in her Lexus.
I sat down to knit at 8:28. D. crossed the street with a plate full of goodies for the sick neighbor, picking up her newspaper en route to the front door. “Another lovely day in Bellingham,” he joked. I asked him what he made for breakfast and he said, “Bran muffins…But I didn’t make them, C. did. I’m just the delivery boy!” Later C. and D. drive away in their tiny blue car, I catch a glimpse of their faces smiling and waving through fogged up windows.
Yesterday my friend M. sat on the bench with me in a crosslegged position wearing a labyrinth pendant around her neck. I found out that she is the youngest of 3 kids. Almost all my friends are either an only child or the baby of the family. My theory is that their lightheartedness and easy self-acceptance balance out my oldest child’s uber responsible, perfectionistic nature. To this day, I still feel apologetic if I have too much fun. We exchanged stories of our childhood. I had an older foster brother who sexually abused me, and 6 younger siblings. Nothing was “normal” from about the age of 12 on. My adopted sister’s heart began failing while I navigated puberty and dodged my arch nemesis, the blond bully Crystal Maddox, in 7th grade. Every morning, I watched my sister refuse to eat despite my dad’s attempts to ply her with bacon and Ensure. Because of her health problems, she was always skinny from the get go–like a poster child for malnutrition with a huge smile that lit up her brown face–but now she was impossibly even skinnier than her usual stick figure. Then one day she died sitting on the toilet propped up by my dad.
The next two years were a blur as we moved back to Thailand and tried to go on with our lives as if nothing had happened. Then, one day my mom got a phone call on her birthday from a nurse who was taking care of a baby abandoned by a teenage mom with HIV. She wanted to know if my parents would take care of the baby. I was 13 or 14. My mom said yes through a waterfall of tears. My parents named him Moses, or “Mo” as we called him, in hopes that like his biblical namesake he would escape Pharoah (AIDS), floating on a basket incognito through the reeds. For a year or more, we hoped against hope, watching his anti-body count swing up and down and falling in love with our rolly polly, baby brother. But by the time I was 16, he had full-blown AIDS. Helplessly, I watched him turn into a walking skeleton, his body emaciated by diarrhea, his skin erupting in pussy skin sores. Meanwhile, my mom had given birth to my youngest brother Nate. I kept trying harder to take care of my parents and siblings and get straight A’s in school, meanwhile hating myself for being so depressed and angry.
So much has changed for the better in my outlook since then. Yet nothing is ever the same after you’ve lived through an ordeal of this magnitude. It’s as if the world’s suffering entered our home and our hearts. I go about my life in the midst of affluence but I can’t completely forget that on the other side of the cardboard wall of my consciousness, there are people enduring more than I can imagine. I tell myself that going about life with a furrowed brow, tight shoulders, and a heavy heart doesn’t aleve the pain in the world. But I don’t know how to hold the suffering that exists in the world and the pleasure that is mine without feeling a tinge of unease, even guilt. Closer to home, I don’t know how to hold the awareness that at any moment, another tragedy could erupt in my life.
I come back to my knitting. I tell G. to enjoy the raindrops, and she says, “Yes, we’ll have fresh, dewy faces.” And I yearn for her innocence.