This spring I had two important projects to accomplish, which can be summarized in one short compound sentence: I got married, and I retired. Six words, but so many more conversations, decisions, and small actions. Forms to complete and checks to write and stamps to find and feelings to feel.

So many feelings.

And, of course, all those things all had to fit around, among, and between all the regular parts of life: toilets to scrub and groceries to buy and jobs to go to and bills to pay and clothes to wash and plants to water. I told myself that once I got to the end of the school year, it would all settle down. There would be time to see friends and sleep a bit more and exercise and make good food and write again.

You already know that’s not how it’s gone, don’t you? (It never does, does it?)

Work keeps hanging on. (Almost done, but still not quite.) We have Cane’s house to ready and stage for an August 1 listing date, and we are remaking my house into ours. I have an unplanned-for trip to see my daughter. And then the heat dome hit us.

As with all the calamities that have pummeled us over the past year or so (pandemic, toxic air, freakish ice storm), I am more fortunate than many. Still, it got to me.

It got to me in the form of nearly crying over my dessicated fruit bushes, and immediately feeling like a shit person because–unlike others living less than a mile from me–I was not trying to survive 115 degree temperatures in a tent pitched on a grassy median that divides a neighborhood from a freeway on-ramp. I live in an air-conditioned house. I do not need the fruit for physical survival. I can drive or walk to a grocery store and buy everything I need and want.

But (of course, of course!) it’s not about the fruit and I know that. (You do, too, don’t you?) The fruit is just a symbol, a metaphor.

The fruit is an undeniable, concrete representation of what’s happening.

Friday night my friend V. came to visit. We were once colleagues, and then colleague-friends, and now just friends. (“You need to stop saying ‘retiring,'” she admonished. “You are retired. You did it. It’s past-tense, baby!”) For three years she has been working and living in London while her husband remained here in Oregon, but she’s returned to the US and they are moving to a mid-west state, where their family lives, and where they moved here from. We are both busy and exhausted from the project of reinventing our lives, and it was the only chance we had to see each other before our paths diverge in a more permanent way.

We talked for nearly 5 hours, not realizing how much time had passed until the sky began to turn dark. We noted how much we love talking with each other.

“When are we going to see each other again?” I asked, knowing she has nothing to bring her to Oregon any more, feeling not unlike the way I felt when I saw my desolated raspberries. V. pushed and supported me through a critical juncture, and while the actual overlap of our lives might end up being a relative blip in terms of time, ours will always be one of my most important friendships.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. (We are both old enough to know how life goes. We know that promises made at these kinds of endings can be hard to keep.) We talked about the possibility of meeting in places we’d like to travel to: Italy, Hawaii, Japan. It could happen, I suppose. Anything can. But because anything can I know it’s possible that we might never see each other again.

After V. left, I went out the patio to gather up plates and glasses. The patio lights had turned on while we were saying our good-byes. Oh, I thought. I wish she’d gotten to see them. They were so pretty in the dark.

The next morning I got out the sprinklers to water the blueberry bushes. I thought I’d have a whole summer of berries from them, the way I did last year. Last week I bought a carton from the produce market, thinking they’d likely the be last one I’d have to purchase this year. I thought about childhood summers, where an 85 degree day was a scorcher, and about all the people who filled those days and are now gone from my life forever. I thought about time, and how events of the past year have distorted all my previous sense of it. Or maybe it’s just getting older, and having so many layers of memories that the earlier ones are getting soft as the mildewy pages of an old book.

For the first time since the heat broke, I really examined my blueberry bushes and could see that while my yield will be smaller this year, there will still be some. Among the shriveled husks of some are the plump bodies of others, already ripening and darkening. The morning after I say good-bye to my friend, I focus on those, on feeding them, understanding that I’m always going to want more of everything I love.

8 thoughts on “Dessication

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I feel sad about the blueberry bush, but at least there will be some berries. Still, poor little thing. Talking for 5 hours! I don’t think I could do that, but I like the scenario you describe so maybe in such a situation I could. I’m glad you had a great time with your friend. I agree with your conclusion: I’m always going to want more of everything I love.

    • Rita says:

      When my kids were little, their school taught them “you get what you get and don’t throw a fit.” I sort of appreciated this–a way to keep kids from fussing when treats were being handed out–but it also niggled at me. More and more, I think healthiness lies in both/and more than either/or. I am both grateful AND sad. They can co-exist! Over the same things! And, maybe the sadness is a way of being appreciative? If I let myself feel the sadness, that is rooted in appreciation and love and gratitude, and then I’m more fully feeling those, too.

      Talking for 5 hours isn’t usually my thing, either. (I’m a card-carrying introvert.) But with the right people in the right place, I love it.

    • Rita says:

      I love those patio lights and am surprised at how much joy can come from such a small thing. They are solar, so they turn on every night all by themselves. Like magic. Makes letting the dog out before bed a treat more than a chore.

  2. Tim Kraabel says:

    That was a fantastic piece. I am glad to see you’re writing again.
    You sound happy and content.
    It all made me smile.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, it’s so nice to hear from you! I hope you are well. Getting this note from you makes ME smile. 🙂 (I am happy and content. I mean, not every moment. I’m still me. But, you know, in general. And it’s really nice.)

  3. Kate says:

    So much yes to wanting more of everything I love. This weekend was spent with my sister and her family and my brother, celebrating V a little early. It was so full and almost frantic trying to squeeze all the joy in the days (in part because kids are always willing -and asking- to go from one fun thing to the next) and when we were done packing up and picking up and saying good-bye, I missed them all already.

    I hope you’re not getting the next bout of heat I read about and that you get some of those beautiful berries. I’m glad you got to spend time with your friend.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I love those kinds of time, and I’m so glad you got to have some! I think losing those was the worst part of last summer. I got to have some time with cousins this past weekend, and I loved seeing all of them.

      The weekend’s extreme heat didn’t extend to Portland, and I was further north, near the Canadian border. It was LOVELY there, and our visit cemented my desire to move back up to Washington (where I grew up). That will be a ways off, but it’s definitely one of my fantasy futures. Still, it’s been warm here and I’m over days in the high 80s. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of weeks of that left.

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