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- Family Matters
It was never intentional.
I let myself get distracted by the quarter inch of dust over the stove’s exhaust, by the bare refrigerator, by the cat who wanted her mousey thrown again and again. Then there was lunch, and the cleaning up after lunch, and the laundry basket that never empties.
The rational part of me says that some days will be like this. That I shouldn’t expect to win every battle, much less a battle everyday. In order to fight and win, you have to endure some endless days of marching.
Besides, I have a cold.
Remember the time Penelope Trunk wrote about selling her son’s goat for slaughter? That’s what I feel like I’ve done with you. Except she was able to save the goat and I’m afraid the only happy ending in my story is called tomorrow.
I know tomorrow is an unreliable friend. He makes a lot of promises he doesn’t keep and doesn’t seem all that repentant. And I still keeping lending him money.
I also know when I’ve been on a plane that was bucking like an untamed horse, I forgot all about tomorrow. A surge of yesterdays crowded into my memory, eager for one last replay. And not the ones you might expect. They were the ones filled with small joys, like walking without purpose or listening to my daughter entertain herself with a blanket.
I am writing this letter with my cat Pico stretched out in my lap. When people see her, they always ask me if she’s pregnant. No one ever asks me why her name is the same as the Spanish word for small. Which means I can’t think about her without being both happy and sad.
She used to be skinny. Now she gets fed too much because it is hard to do my work with a demanding cat and only 1300 square feet of living space.
I worry she’s lost years of her life to my unwillingness to curb her appetite. But I also knows she’s gained a lot compared to her days on the street, where she fractured her fangs from trying to eat the inedible out of desperation.
If it’s true that owners resemble their pets, I wonder if I am like Pico at her most desperate, or when she has all she needs and takes it for granted.
We both know this isn’t the last letter I’ll write. We’ve had this argument before. The truth is, I don’t really know where this is going.
And maybe that’s the whole point.
In my work, there’s a lot of urgency to “Do the work you were born to do!” or “Don’t die with your song still inside you!”
It’s easy to find myself straining, like I’m trying to understand someone speaking over a muffled loudspeaker. Is this my stop? Do I need to change trains? Am I going the right way?
Of course, you and universe could care less. There are no answers. No grand plans. No need to apologize.
I stumbled on some poems I’d written years ago, like the me-at-35 tapping the me-at-41 on the shoulder. “Look at this,” she said.
Imagine the geode of this world cracked open,
the radiance of everyday objects revealed—
the tea kettle and its shimmer of steam,
the spoon’s hazy splendor, the window’s
white cascade, every bush burning…
If I ever had something that could be called a mantra, this would be it: the extraordinary is hidden in the ordinary.
Ze Frank says it more plainly.
What if this is happiness? What if happiness is the practice of a slow calligraphy of these small gestures?
I realize how funny it is to worry I haven’t been productive. Most days are filled with mental jumping jacks and I call that success. Today I’ve produced something real, tangible: a clean kitchen and a cat who is entertaining herself with the remaining bit of mess.
I don’t know what my expectations were from you or why I felt like my needs weren’t met. I guess it’s like any relationship. Misunderstandings grounded in nothing.
But I thought you’d like to know that when I picked up my daughter from school and asked her, “How was your day?” She told me, “I don’t remember.” I smiled and replied, “Me either.”
Then we ran up the hill, hand in hand, to go do nothing worth remembering … together.
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