The Great Alone: A Fringe Reader’s Review

Kristin Hannah is a very popular author. I tend to read on the fringe of that popularity awareness spectrum. I do not typically navigate the same reading trends and lanes as all the other people out there reading. And by “all the other people out there reading” I mean most of the people, and would include in that list all of the people that I know personally. I stumbled across a much-recommended historical fiction novel — The Nightingale — set during World War II. Admittedly this is my weakness, the kryptonite of reading genres for me. I downloaded the Audible version and was transported so quickly to 1939 France that I barely had time to grab my head scarf to avoid detection from the German soldiers as they descended on the countryside. 

Yesterday I finished reading my second Kristin Hannah novel, The Great Alone. Is it historical fiction if it’s set in a time inside of my own lifetime? Strange consideration. Let’s say this one is NOT historical fiction. It’s just set in the 1970s in remote Alaska. Spoiler Alert: there’s a murder committed. Bigger spoiler — because I’m not writing any of these meandering and meaningless thoughts to protect you from the fictitious plot of a book whose reading I will never get back my time — the murder of the man is committed by his wife. There that’s out, now let me tell you some more details.

Said murderee is a Vietnam vet with severe PTSD. He beats his wife like no rug should have to tolerate and blames his erraticism and bad behavior on things like the weather and yeah, that’s about it. The weather.

The murderer is his wife and the mother of their only child, a daughter. Never ever, not once, in their probably 20 years together does she resist, complain, fight back, or even leave. Until the day she kills him. Two shots with a rifle into his back.

Why? What triggered (intentionally used that word for dramatic effect) her to suddenly explode (another intentional entendre) and very deliberately kill the self-proclaimed love of her life? 

Kids. Am I right? A mother’s love — there’s nothing to compare it, except of course, only all the mothers’ love on prominent display daily, from the Grizzly watching out for her cub to the beaten, trodden-down, misunderstanding love mother in this made-up story that could be as real as you and me. Her husband was beating her daughter in front of her. Why? Beating her because she said out loud she was pregnant. Love caused that. This is a love story, no doubt, any way you peel back the chapters or pile them on top of each other. Love keeps showing up like it’s the through-line giving oxygen to the very pages on which the story is written. 

Love: the messed up and completely impossible to understand abusive kind.

Love: the fill your whole heart until it spills over and leaks into your every corner for your child kind. 

Love: the young, tender, sweet passing notes in class and sneaking out at night for a breath of you young and innocent kind.

Love: the fierce and large wrap you in my arms because my heart is big enough to hold this whole town kind.

Love: the no matter what you say or do I will always love you kind.

Love: the weathered and wisened and regret-filled rear-view awareness while looking at what’s right in front of me after all these years kind. 

Love: the I can’t explain what or why you behaved in the ways you did but I forgive you kind. 

Love: the natural ebbs and flows of that which surrounds, protects, and provides kind.

And I am here for love. Always. So there’s that endorsement from me.

But Kristin, I am no longer here for your storytelling, for your doom and your gloom, for your foundation of, and dependence on, grief, hardship, tragedy, death, despair, and darkness to turn every page. Seriously. No relief. And it got to be comical. Can we even end the story without another maddeningly dark plot twist at the eleventh hour? No, apparently we cannot. So with approximately one chapter remaining, our heroine — the surviving daughter whose life was saved by her mother’s murder of her father — is thrown into JAIL for a late-life confession by her DEAD mother for the killing of her also very dead husband. 

Was it murder? Yes. Justified? Also yes. In the end did I even care? Not a damn lick because I just wanted out into the real world where Love lives in, as, and through me. 

But if you’re looking for a good World War II recommendation I will hook you up.

Dirty Fingernails

The tips of at least eight of my ten fingers hurt. I have dirt wedged underneath all ten fingernails, as if I’m giving a (dirty) finger to manicures and personal hygiene and memories of manicures in a long-ago lifetime pre-2020, that was only like last week in real time. My forearms look as though a cat with all its claws and I were in a tussle and the cat won. I keep sneezing. Flying bits of this pervasive creeping weed keep launching themselves into the corners of my eye, assuming my ductwork will activate its system to work them out. My knees are dependent on the memory foam cushion double-wrapped in a trash bag plus pillowcase to protect their tenderness. My inaugural bath of the gardening season was a necessity for dirt’s removal and my body’s functionality, rather than a luxury soak, although one day I’ll luxuriate instead of nap in those not quite deep enough tepid waters of my tub. You know what? It’s actually all ten; they all hurt. 

One year ago I was digging holes exactly 24 inches apart; we used a yardstick for consistency and the gardener’s need for exactness. Planting the bell pepper plants he grew from seed was the highlight of those early April days; what he’d so meticulously and lovingly nurtured in the greenhouse was ready for earth’s reception. The sugar snap peas had been in-ground for some weeks already and by now last April their delicate green leaves, barely an inch tall, carpeted a soft path underneath the chicken wire fencing, where they had been planted with purpose and given the chance to reach up and grab hold, growing as tall as they like, and by mid-May they were just showing off, no longer timid or shy at their own green goodness.

Hundreds of yards of weeds were pulled up and rolled up like an outdated shag rug no longer in vogue. 55-gallon trash cans were filled over and over and over again, whose count I have long since lost track (because I never did count or keep track) and were weekly placed in a neat row curbside, providing for the landfill a seemingly never-ending supply of that which the earth grew, but no longer served or was needed here in our bit of earth for which we are the caretakers. Thank you city heavy lifters for carrying that which I could not.

My dad, the master gardener and the orchestrator of greenhouse growing, of manicured beds and of thousands of blossoms, had the vision and the plan for beauty and bounty’s execution. I was simply his hands, his knees, his hurting fingertips, his laborer of Love. 

On the hot and heavy morning of July 4, 2020, I dug up and filled a five-gallon bucket with my dad’s rich compost pile, the backyard mound stretching the length between the manicured lawn and the wild area he’d allowed to overgrow for as many years as he’d been creating and contributing leftover potatoes, banana peels, egg shells, and any and all kitchen scraps our family could not use, plus yard clippings and piles of fresh-cut grass from every mowing. All my dad always said he wanted was to be buried in his compost pile, to be part of the earth he loved and lived in, the ground he spun into a precious gold soil, made noticeably better by the burgeoning number of earthworms moving through its warm and pulsating pathways. As my last tribute on that July 4 morning, I stood at the earth’s edge and dumped that bucket full of his hand-grown earth right on top of him, covering the length of the box inside the ground now the holding place for him. 

My birthday on the first of April announced spring’s arrival with all its carpets of weeds, allergens, blooming bushes of Forsythia, Camellia, and Azalea. Surprisingly, it also exposed a growth inside of me — a deep-rooted longing I can only suppose was planted (unbeknownst to me) by my dad — a longing to have the tips of all ten of my fingers sore again from digging, to have dirt wedged underneath my fingernails, to have my knees shrouded from direct contact with the ground, and to be surrounded and filled with the vision, the plan, and the knowing of my master gardener father. 

I am now leading my own orchestration of the garden given into my care as one of his final deeds in the dirt. Manicured beds are filling with (at least) hundreds of blossoms, beauty and bounty’s execution this time being enacted and implemented on my own, with my own hands, my own knees, my own hurting fingertips: my labor of Love guided by whispers from above and the dirt below. 

I Know Love

It’s easy to preach from the pulpit, to talk at and about what life is and what relationships are not, to suggest knowing a thing — any thing — without being in the thing. Except I have been there, gotten through to the other side by way of fire-walking. That kind of lived experience has a way of leaving permanent marks on feet and hearts and hands that clung to ropes that burned as my hands squeezed tighter, misbelieving the rope was the truth and if I could just maintain my grip it would lead me to the promised land. 

What is it I profess to know? What is it I am preaching from the pulpit of my life path? What truth(s) have I earned the right to know? What stories do the scars imprinted on the bottoms of my feet and the fleshy tables of my heart know to be immutable, regardless of your certain interpretation of me, which opinion is derived only through a lens of your own projections? 

I know Love. I know Love intimately because I have known its opposite: Fear. I have lived with Fear as he raped me of my innocence, tore from me my childlike wonder and assumption that Love was a magical bestowment that like fairy dust just sifts its apportionment onto worthy girls and boys who say, “Yes, I do to, with, and for You.” But the dusting I received wasn’t the light of the fairy realm; it was from a much darker place, replete with doubt, uncertainty, and the questioning of every single truth I had been (force) fed from the time I started consuming solids.  

Fear and I moved in together, where he slept by my side, night after terrifying night, always taking (never asking) that which he told me was (rightfully) his, and what I had been told was no longer mine to hold, to honor, to preserve. My “I do,” was Fear’s free-roaming and irrevocable hall pass. 

Fear was the misidentification of Love, taught, fed, and held up to me as a counterfeit that looked like M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E, the endgame and highest achievement, whose checked box would grant me entrance to a magical kingdom of bliss and being my best self because I would be in service to someone (him) else, and servicing (him) was the exchange asked of my precious Self, along with the additional and usual quid-pro-quo of such an arrangement: the cleaning, cooking, and carrying of babies, etc.

Love spoke to me, reminded me of her actual Truth(s). After years of Fear pounding in my ears, forcing my every move, my heart struggled to hear (to understand) Love. Love was persistent, as Love just is, and never stopped reaching out, reminding me of her presence, her presents, and her path for (as) me. I learned to hear and to listen to Love, as she guided me back to the dusting of light, restored me to that which is the true identification of Love: not M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E, but as Teilhard de Chardin says, “Love is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.” Love unites; Fear divides. 

I know Love. She is soft, gentle, kind, vulnerable, compassionate, forgiving, open, curious, deep, wide, funny, filled with grace, communicative. Love is Me. Your projections have no belonging here inside of the Love I Am, not because I don’t love you, and not because your thoughts and opinions don’t matter, but because these your thoughts and opinions are Fear masquerading counterfeit to Love. And I know Love.  

A Walk With My Self

Years ago I was introduced to the book, A Walk in the Woods, which was a written account of Bill Bryson’s attempt at hiking the Appalachian Trail, arguably the most-known through-hike along the east coast of America, along with his friend Stephen Katz, whose name was definitely changed to protect his identity. They got along; they didn’t agree; they were diametrically different to one another. Humor, challenges, hunger, hurt feet, hurt pride, opportunities for reconnecting and reimagining the trail with every step is what engaged and endeared me to this travelogue. Maybe I’ll hike the Appalachian Trail someday, I considered only after reading this stranger’s notes. 

Reading and thinking about their journey makes me think about how divided I am inside of my Self, as if two people often (if not always) occupy the same body, mind, and heart. On any given day I can be either of those two selves, always in the present moment feeling and firmly believing I am the only self here, whichever of me that is. My thoughts and emotions range from the humorous to the divine, from oppressed to enlightened, and sometimes from contemplative and quiet to inspired action.  

I’m exhausted by me and all my thoughts that never cease percolating, constantly reaching their perceived brew-point and seeking a spout through which to pour themselves on and into whomever is the closest mug of reception. God bless my mugs: those holders of my emotions, thoughts, dreams, worries, and wishes. They drink me up (often without warning or notice that another swig is being forced down their throat), don’t complain or refuse the brew that is me, and tell me how they experience me, their feedback is always that which gives me reflections of my Self, more fodder for thinking, perceiving, being. Their generosity of holding — the holding of me like a role reversal just took place inside of these two sentences — as if I am now the cup and the coffee, both, and it is their hands enveloping the mug of me that keeps me steady, not spilling, and I warm them, their hands, their hearts. The holding is also the blessing. 

I am testing a new cocktail today: a new experience of and as my Self. I am testing that which previously I have only ever theorized. I am curious to know if my internal brewing can produce something not just delectable, but duplicatable. I am mixing, shaking, and stirring my heart’s vat of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They’re here with me in each of my actions, my touch points, my vulnerabilities. 

Perhaps a walk in the woods with both my selves is exactly what I need: a nice 2,200-mile trek to see that I am not now, and not ever, alone, that relationships are hard no matter where on the trail I/we happen to be in this moment, and pouring myself into the living of this life of mine is exactly where and what I wish, for warm hands and for warm hearts, for both giving and receiving the blessing of all of me, exactly as I am in my now. Thank you for letting me touch you. Thank you for holding me. I see, the relationship is the blessing.

Hallelujah

A deep deep inhalation followed by a full-breathed exhale — the all at once kind, looking like the wind emoji and wondering if this is what is meant by life imitating art? My wondering takes me underneath the exhale, curious if I can name it, say out loud the source of this Hallelujah’s inception. I know there is power in a name. I remember that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), and if Mary kept her things to herself, should I, too, keep mine? 

My full-breathed exhales are my Hallelujah Collective, a chorus of sorts, and much like Handel in his writing of his own Hallelujah Chorus (much better-known than my own), “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels,” I know my exhales are full of the god in me accompanied by my own company of angels surrounding, lifting, and lighting my next breath forward. 

Notable Hallelujah’s:

— Every time his touching of me stopped. Always temporarily, but stopped. In those moments I exhaled.

— 9/11 peace accord with my Self, the confirmation that we two, she and me, would remain standing but on separate ground from him

— He agreeing, without dissertation or discussion of any kind, to my having full custody of our co-creation, my whole heart, my girl

— The signature from a credentialed-stranger, publicly decreeing a legal unbinding on the outside of what would take more years apart than ever together to undo what twisted up and bound my inside beliefs

— A name, my own from birth, restored as patronymic for only a small fee + the paperwork

— Another signature, many times repeated, binding me to a home, a place, a mortgage, my own alone

— Dance recitals, voice performances, graduations, life moments complete with staged photographs to capture forever the unbindable and impossible to capture love for this precious daughter

— Graduate work with my own heart, Spiritual Psychology, reviewing, revisiting, forgiving, reimagining, and reinventing my own breaths and transmuting them one at a time into my own Hallelujah Collective, here to be treasured, acknowledged, shared and seen. By me. By you. For the heavenly seeing of the god in me bowing to the god I was, only always doing the best she could.

And look at her now: breathing.

Hallelujah. 

Happy Anniversary

I got married 24 years ago today on October 10, 1996. 

Waking up on that Thursday morning for a 10am “I Do” moment could not feel more vastly different from how I felt this October 10, 2020 morning. 

24 years ago I was nervous, second-guessing myself, nauseated, and just this side of a panic attack. I paid NO attention to any of those screaming, waving, jumping out of their seats red flags my body was throwing directly at me. Instead, I dismissed my nervousness as the “cold feet” everyone apparently gets on their wedding day; I ignored entirely my doubts as inconsequential and, while quiet, not a voice that mattered; the nausea was clearly related to my nerves and, therefore, part of my cold feet; and the panic attack that wasn’t — well I wasn’t listening to my own still small voice so why would a flaming panic attack stop me from stepping ahead? 

Self-dismissal on every level: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, was the way I lived my life 24 years ago, bypassing, dismissing and outright ignoring every indicator my body’s life navigational system came equipped with to operate.  

Vehicles (and bodies, I discovered) do not hold up well over time when their messages and indicators for service and attention are ignored by those using them to function. I had already made it abundantly clear to my body that I do not listen, pay attention to, or respect its voice. Every indicator it gave me over the years I ignored. I was definitely not providing regular service, check-ups, check-ins, or care for my Self. 

My body (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) carried and sustained me for three strenuous years after that 10:00am on the 10th of October “I Do” before no longer giving me the option of a red flag. It was as if my license to drive my Self had been revoked. No questions asked. My physical system just shut itself down in the summer of 1999. While medical doctors determined symptoms, I was something of a conundrum; no one could ever diagnose exactly what would “fix” me on the physical level. 

After two more years of struggle, and for the first time in my life, I was finally hearing the quiet message my body was sharing with me and I understood its meaning. My fix wasn’t going to come through any prescription; if I wanted to heal physically, I would need to heal my relationship with my Self on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. 

October 2001 — just five years after “I Do,” I said “I Don’t” and embarked on a journey of Self listening, learning, and living. My healing journey has taken me through every level my body has asked me to explore and to align: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Living in integrity with the wholeness of my Self has replaced the unhealthy and unsustainable system of dismissal I used for the first 30+ years of my life. I pay attention to every message my body is no longer screaming at me because I’ve repaired our relationship and slowed down to listen to my Self. 

Today I only ever say “I Do” to that which my whole Self and I agree is in alignment with the truth of who I am. 

Let Go

The pain screams louder than my tight-faced silence. I can’t catch my breath. Forget sneezing; I cry just at the thought. I find relief only in a hot bath; the water holds my body afloat and without any pressure from any direction my body is free, floating and pain-free. I love my time in the tub: napping, dreaming, singing, smiling, pondering. 

Ready to remove myself from bliss (the water temperature had become tepid so obviously time to move out and on to warmth somewhere else), I pushed gently with my outstretched toes against the end of the tub to propel my entire body into an upright position. Well-before I could be upright I first had to come back into bodily contact with the tub wall. The pressure/weight generated by my tiny toes was enough to create full back contact instantly. And in that instant my back screamed from the agonizing pain and I cried out in response: I am so sorry you’re hurting! What do you need from me? What do you need me to know? How can I help you? Talk to me, please.

And Pain whimpered, “Just let go.” 

Anxious to appease I begged for more information, Let go of what? I’ll do it; I’ll let go of whatever you want, just tell me what it is. 

No verbal response, only short measured breaths because breathing is hard when it’s so painful to do. Lingering not much longer I eased my way up and out of the water, still questioning what was mine to release, to let go. Going back through my chain of events, seeking direction, inspiration, a clue. Where and why had this pain begun at all? I had been quick to blame, I realized, quick to judge a building of a retaining wall on this back of mine. But in review I could easily see there had been no “incident,” no cause; just a moment of bending over to lift cut azalea branches from the ground — a moment among many of proving I can do all of this by myself, of showing I am doing all the things, all the time, all alone. 

But for what? For why? For how long? So many years of being in my masculine, of being the one and only one to consistently show up on my own behalf, to be in charge, responsible, providing, nurturing, loving, feeding, clothing, driving, talking, counseling, cleaning, cooking, disciplining, working, ordering, organizing, managing, responding, learning, teaching, volunteering, serving, traveling, entertaining, supporting. All while emphatically stating, nay declaring, “I don’t need a man. I don’t ever want to need a man again. I just want to want one. I only want to need to share my life with a man because I am whole and complete all by myself.” And I meant what I said because what I said made sense to me. It calmed and appeased that afraid place inside me that was so hurt and repulsed by my having needed and been hurt, abused, scorned and made to feel wrong for it. Those are deep places in my body that remember. 

Oh my I remember now in this moment as I write. I remember that other moment of needing my husband to see me, to hear me, to care for me because I couldn’t take care of myself and he said NO and I stepped outside to breathe the sunshine’s inspiration and that breath triggered a sneeze and that sneeze was larger than my sadness and at the top of the sneeze my heart popped and that’s where this pain lives — right there in the ribs Adam donated to my Eve. Those ribs we were meant to have as equals, as partners, as much as a needing can be had; it’s written right there in my ribs surrounding and holding my heart. Is this the “Just Let Go” my pain keeps telling me? 

In that bending over for the azalea branches the popping reminder of who I am and have always been? I am the Feminine: receptive, loving, graceful, beauty, divine and don’t need to do all the doing because sharing ribs, sharing spaces that hold our hearts is necessary and sharing me is needing you? My wanting to share myself with you is my needing you. I can’t do and carry and lift and manage and plan and execute and organize and drive and dictate and expect and operate and haul. Those aren’t mine to do. They’re mine to receive. You are mine to receive. You are mine to want and to need. I want to need you. 

I need you and I love how that feels to see and to say that with my outside voice repeating what my heart from inside my Adam’s ribs whispers to me, “Just let go, Arminda. Don’t hold onto what’s not yours.” My pain, my ribs, my heart holder beats, “Let go and receive, Let go of the wall, the water will hold you; it’s what water is meant to do: surround and hold you afloat.”

Yes, I’m saying YES to that. 

Love Out Loud

Growing up in such a large family meant many things were certain:

1. There was never not noise and commotion

2. If you wanted seconds you had to hurry through your first serving

3. Everyone shared a bedroom with at least one other person

4. Gardening was how we fed ourselves and participation was not optional

5. We all sat down together for supper every night

6. Monday nights were reserved as family nights, no exceptions

7. “Emergencies” like bleeding, broken bones or illness earned you focused, and often immediate, attention from 1-2 stretched-way-too-thin parents

8. Bedtime was a three-ring circus operating precariously under the supervision of an always-distracted ringmaster

9. Anytime the arguing got loud enough to draw the attention of a neutral party, said neutral party would start singing my parents’ favorite hymn for just such an occasion: “There is beauty all around, when there’s love at home. There is joy in every sound, when there’s love at home” and their singing would be met with shouts of “SHUT UP!” from the arguing parties now being reminded that Love is not supposed to be so loud. But who wants to think about love when such injustices are being committed against you right here in the family room?!

Loud. Love actually is loud sometimes. At least that’s my experience in my family of ten: how could it ever be anything different than it was? Than it still is even today with all eight of us siblings grown with families of our own? We love out loud. It’s what we know to do because our parents loved us out loud through every “Make your bed” reminder; “It’s your turn to help with the dishes” warning; Saturday morning listening to Daddy singing “Old Man River” with his left arm draped on the open windowsill of his 1976 red Ford pickup truck while I sit quietly buckled into the middle seat feeling his bigger-than-life right arm bump against me every time he shifts gears; the steam escaping Mama’s old iron waiting alongside the hum of her Singer sewing machine stitching my dreams-come-to-life dresses; after-dark-only games of Ghost in the Graveyard with Daddy as both ghost and protector when his surprising roars scared me to tears; the turning of oft-turned front wheels against the gravel drive coming or going with yet another precious cargo driven by an exhausted chauffeur mother.

Love is loud.

I wouldn’t hear it any other way.

The Science of Hiking

I used to want not wanting. I say I consciously chose that path, but it was more my path by default. 

The Default Experience explained in Scientific Methodology:

The What

The Who

The When

The Where, and

The Why

WHAT: raped for first time

WHO: my husband

WHEN: my wedding day

WHERE: queen-sized bed, standard white sheets, dark drapes drawn, DO NOT DISTURB sign dangling

WHY: he never told me why

5.5 years of being his rape and pillage pet project on daily repeat because you know the song eventually gets old after playing it 3-5 times a day. At least I got tired, or woke up to being played so often. I stormed out of his record store. And by “stormed out,” I mean packed the one thing of greatest value we didn’t share anyway and with her tiny 3 1/2 year-old hand in mine we flew over the Rockies, the sunflower fields, the Kansas that never ends, Huck and Jim’s mighty Mississippi, and the ancient Appalachians and landed home again.

Of course I chose not wanting to be touched, not wanting to be seen, not wanting to be objectified, not wanting to be wanted in any way by any him. Not anytime. Probably not ever. 

But not ever didn’t last forever. I hiked my own Appalachian Trail with every therapist visit, with every non-existent child support check I wasn’t cashing, with every plea on behalf of her tiny hand for involvement, engagement, or interest, with every late night luxury cry session only when I knew those tiny hands were asleep. 

I may only have been at trail marker 749 when I said yes to a dinner. Marker 853 brought yes to a boyfriend, a relationship, co-hiking for maybe a few months on the trail. As the miles passed I replaced socks and boots, tended blisters and sores that couldn’t be avoided, hiking buddies who stayed a short while and others for longer, but none who wanted to complete the journey with me. And none with whom I wanted to see the view from the top or with whom I want to share stories and laughs on the return climb.

I keep looking, wondering where he might be — that elusive partner with boots already laced, already on the trail, no preamble needed, just fall in-step next to me because next to me is where he chooses to be and on top of me is where I choose to share me. No scientific experimentation required for later unpacking. Please — just carry out what you carry in, with only the added heart growth guaranteed from healthy exertion. 

The Gardener

The potatoes need to be dug up. The long-dead green bean vines need to be pulled out and composted. The cucumbers haven’t been harvested in at least two weeks; their ability to materialize and then immediately engorge themselves on the vine is nothing short of magical. Sadly, the cukes we have eaten, no matter how small I pick them, are bitter and no amount of salt has been their salvation. And the tomatoes — we planted 14 of them, maybe six varieties, but 14 different plants. They’re prolific, to say the least. The squirrels and birds are getting well-fed on the abundant crop. I can’t eat them all. We talked about salsa, tomato soup or even spaghetti sauce, but haven’t picked more than three tomatoes since that wishful conversation three weeks ago. 

The ground is every bit as red as the heavy-laden plants, littered after the crowd dispersed and left their fruit behind to decay without attention because the gardener is gone. He’s not coming back to clean up the messiness of what he so meticulously planned and we then planted. His spreadsheets, order forms, lists, and labeled popsicle sticks now lie in piles I can’t find or make order out of the weeds in their wake.

The zinnias clambering all summer long for the front seat screaming, “SHOTGUN!” are now elbowing each other in the face and tumbling toward the ground, unable to stop the stampede they started and my attempts to fence them in again look paltry in comparison to the original vision of ordered tall down the middle, medium next, then shortest on the outside, cascading heights along both lengths of the flowerbed. Is this overgrowth and death and abundance just because it’s late August or is it because the master planner, the gardener, is gone? I know he’s not coming back. 

I love being in the garden, although double-edged for me. I feel closest to him there, weeding, transplanting, harvesting. And saddest for the same reasons.

I dug up all the potatoes. I started with the pitchfork but couldn’t dig without stabbing one spud on every plunge. The potatoes were too close to the surface; they were planted just before I got here. Helpers from elsewhere came to assist; to be directed and taught by the gardener: how to turn your soil, how to lay the yardstick to measure your stakes’ distance from each other, how to slip the string over the end of the opposite stake making the line taut, how to hoe down the row as you go and exactly what amount of space to leave between each hill, and how to bury them so completely to ensure their growth into brand new potatoes. 

Their greens were beautiful; the prettiest the gardener had ever seen. When he went away I kept watch, kept watering, kept talking to the buried spuds. There were potatoes popping above-ground! It was too soon. They were green like their tops — I had to bury them again, had to coax them back down, give them more time, do the work that the gardener trusted others to do but they weren’t deep enough. I could see evidence. Bucket after bucket after bucket of mulch I shoveled, hauled, dumped and spread. I laid a fresh and false blanket on top of the bed, urging the potatoes in whispered tones: Keep growing; it’s not time yet.

I laid aside the pitchfork and dropped down to my knees. I dug with my hands, cradling each potato to wipe it of the earth dirt clinging to its sides before tossing them into the now mulch-free buckets that buried them back down two months ago.

They aren’t all strong and mighty like a Russet is “supposed” to be, but the gardener worked through me to grow something in the end, something that we did together. And after the harvest buckets were hauled inside, I cried my own buckets of tears, weeping for the gardener whose harvest survives him but lies buried on the surface of the ground, visible beauty decaying, seeding, burying itself until it flowers again in its season.