Witness

If you told me as I was snapping these pictures of my girls all those years ago that our world would crash and burn—that we’d be Navigating waters of hardship and heartbreak—and become so vulnerable we’d feel buried under the suffocating ruins of our own lives, I might have given up. And yet had I done so, I would not have arrived to their adulthood so to see the humor and empathy of two humans unquestioningly relying on their shared strength, holding space for each others’ tenderness, and wearing one another for warmth during cold times.

It’s incredibly powerful and I’m blessed to have endured hardship that I could witness such love.

Muh Earl

Some pics belie the tenderness behind them. Because when I met introverted Earl–whose history included the passing of his former owner, the relatives for whom did not find new homes for his cats and Earl was put on the street–his eyes seemed almost too sad to overcome the emotional hesitation.
 
And as a pet sitter, everything is always temporary and short-term. For a few days, I come in, feed, stay for a bit, leave and don’t see them sometimes for a long while between their families trips. And because of this, good connections with sensitive animals who’ve experienced abandonment are challenging to manifest. Since animals become world-weary just like humans, and know better than to get attached. For although circumstances change, once we experience such a loss as Earl had the fear usually settles into even our muscles, so Earl had made his whole body part of keeping distance, revealing his skepticism and hurt as he’d let the other house cats crowd before walking off as if giving up.
 
But I understood Earl. Knew his grief. And in the justified sadness of a sweet cat someone shooed outside as if they were sweeping the floor, I was called to act. So I made time to find him each visit, to sit with him, to specifically bring him into the circle of my attention (even with his extroverted sibs crowding around) because I wanted him to know he was important to me. Wanted to make an event out of “Earl”. Came into the house hollering the refrain “Where’s muh Earl?” so that he knew right away I hadn’t forgotten between trips that he was that tender guy I wanted to see.
 
Because we’ve all looked out upon the world with sad Earl eyes, many of us coming to exist within the immovable sense of not feeling safe enough to trust the world won’t hurt us, for, in fact the world has—Purposefully, Unashamedly—until sometimes we want to even flee from this life. And while these are harsh realities I can’t erase out of existence, I didn’t want to accept that that’s all there is. And Earl didn’t either.
 
For sometimes sadness and grief seem solid as if anchoring us permanently into them. Yet from mutual loss flows a compassion and nurturance for our fellow humans and creatures until somehow, one day, we’re sitting on the couch and old man Earl suddenly climbs into our lap and nuzzles his face in our hair.
 
And there are yet mysteries to solve, but events often become bits of truth constantly discovering itself, and when sweet Earl jumped up that first day—cat hair like love floating delicately around—I think it seasoned us both in what to do with this Life. In how to stand inside the new love we weave into existence as we survive this world more powerfully within togetherness.

The beautiful complexity of algae

And it was a time of great vulnerability.  But I didn’t know it then.

Because at age 20, away at college, and in love with the future, I couldn’t yet see anything except through the embedded resilience of youth and the dream that I knew myself well enough to be able to navigate hardship.

So we danced into experiences—he and I—becoming family in the rental in Davis, walking my dogs, brewing fancy coffee, drinking Bailey’s—becoming grown-ups—setting up the Scrabble game to Led Zeppelin; laying in on the weekends, lazy Saturdays spent with the SF Giants on AM radio, Steve tinkering under the hood of his 1967 Mercury Cougar in homemade t-shirts satirizing society (“I DON’T work out at Golds’ Gym” or “I’m High On Crack”).

Us both making a world for ourselves, living a love story we were writing every day.

And we were so tender, he and I; had lived inside lives unbecoming our gentle hearts–his as love for a sweet father who seemed to know deep grief, mine as the oldest of a family who exploded into divorce the second I’d stepped off for college—and we were perfectly-timed, growing towards one another as we lived within a protected sweetness our families hadn’t always modeled. Removing selves from the life we didn’t want to see, reflecting back to one another the safety of kindness and humor and gentle days, Fool in the Rain playing as letter tiles were chosen, him leaving funny poems on my pillow in the morning (“your eyes are the color of pond algae”), me writing my first name alongside his last in my Cognitive Psychology notebook.

But October 17, 1989 came, and the Loma Prieta earthquake stirred all I’d been pushing away, until in mere moments the entire trajectory of my broken family burned inside me. Dad crying in the armchair, mom telling me I wasn’t welcome to come home, dad moving out, mom unstable—making my younger sister Alex do the Ouija board—then that summer ‘89 day Alex ran away from the house (which in just two months she’d be inside when it shook into its death) with me following, trying to fix the world I didn’t want to end, petrified of what would happen to mom if I let her go. Me wanting to save us all from brokenness and still not being able to, for even the earth knew it was too late, and tossed the house down the hill, making everything cockeyed and wobbly, and smelling of the remnants of a dead family. Rotting food from the tipped fridge, moldy water, smashed perfume bottles, and the beloved Angel fish lying dead on the floor.

And it was suddenly too much.  I’d seen too many broken hearts—had lost too much—for dreams to still come true, and pushed Steve away in the disbelief that good could even exist. And in the breakups aftermath, he cried—tears on the lashes of lovely hazel-blue eyes—and asked me “why?”, believing I guess that I would actually have an answer even though I didn’t know anything, and wouldn’t. Not for so many years.

But, as if we both needed an answer, he stayed with me.  For during my lifetime since, I could not stop thoughts of him, and did not want to, and shuffled around a feeling of grief for what I’d done and turned from—dreaming of him at night; 30 years worth–struggling with bewilderment at the feeling that I was irrevocably chained to an ever-distant past, existing in my marriage to James in subconscious reverie for the intimate connection Steve and I had shared huddled all those years ago in college in Davis, warmth and humor and hope and respite from a damaged world. And I could not shirk it no matter how painful it was to remember, and did not know why.

Yet life is mysterious until the wisdom of one single moment calls, and here as I stand in the shadow of all these years, I am every day a new person able to see it now for what it offered me.

For it was magic. That time.

I loved him and I knew he loved me— the “me” that I was at my most deepest and significant self—and in reflecting goodness back to one another, we walked together through the shadows of grief, loving with open hearts against all probability, and nurturing a sweetness so seductive that even at 50 years of age I can still taste and smell the impossible magic that it was.

And for so long, it was a loss—a regret, hurting this sweet man, creating a hole inside me of unknown depth—but even in the remnants of 30 years and the passing of a million lifetimes, I know that he was and always will be a gift to me.

Because he changed me forever—danced upon my soul–beckoning me to emerge towards the safety of himself, and in bearing witness to his powerful love for me, I became stationary within a beautiful moment, and existed in perpetuity as witness to joy and happiness and the affirmation that I could be loved.   And it was an impossible gift that I will carry with me forever.

So on this, his birthday—February 28, 2019, his 51st–I just wanted to say:

Happy Birthday, Steve. You were a safe place in a terrible storm. Thank you—my dearest friend–for showing me how to love myself.

[2/28/2019; I write and revise this every year, and have until this year called this neverending evolution of self “Closure” but I woke up this morning, said “Happy Birthday, Steve,” knowing that you can never achieve closure from something that changed you forever. And so it will be that I will always grow with it and merely hope he’s found his way as the sweet person he always was, and continue to satirize society with humor-filled letters sent in lavender envelopes]

Benny

Dear Benny,

I cannot explain my species.

Can’t encapsulate for you their darkness; have no idea why your entry into this world saw you endure cruelty to where even now that you’re safe, with a new family, you panicked when you saw me—shaking, cowering, running—like you have no hope.

I cannot help with this. I cannot do that for you.

For that there is cruelty calls us to a pain within which we might always sit yet never understand.

But, Benny, there’s something.

For that it is from the same heart which quaked from trauma—fleeing from me in instinctual fear; eyes huge, shaking, growling—that a path could be illuminated to seeing your furry mouth licking my fingers in affection bares the secrecy of our magical world.

Because I can’t tell you the answer to cruelty. Because I don’t know.

But I can tell you about the sunrise. About how the water dances in the air when the star arrives near the mountains. I can tell you about greeting the day to a baby breathing beside you that still smells of heaven, and about songs and words that heal scars, waking broken hearts into new days.

I can tell you about the great darkness from which somehow you find a stronger self, and about the dawn of a day in which you discover that the most beautiful thing in your life is actually you.

And I can tell you about the magic of gentleness and the healing that lives inside showing up for a tender world, and about the tears I shed when you licked my hand, as I rose up to a hope that our world was already better.

For the breath of love anoints us both when we rise to the call to be there for one another.

So, Benny, keep fighting the good fight and I promise you, so will I.

All my best, always.

Amy

(As a just-born puppy, Benny spent a year with his mama, locked in a yard outside even over a frigid Idaho winter and I didn’t know him except for a few days [they were moving to Idaho permanently when they got back from their trip] but the difference in him by the end of the week was palpable and on our last visit, I really did tell him to keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together).

3/30/2018

And I’m walking Greta and Tala and thinking about grief because I’m putting my dog to sleep today sometime between 11 and three. And I asked the vet to text a half hour before he arrives to give me a chance to run home since I’ve been doing my 15 hour workday stretches for weeks–plus I’m moving–and the order in which to triage the chaos is like looking in every direction for due north because your entire system is malfunctioning.

And it’s a cool morning, and the girls’ fur sways to our movement.

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