“The years go by and everything and everyone gets replaced.
But this much is still true-I never liked work.
My goal was always to be shiftless.
I saw the merit in that.
I liked the idea of sitting in a chair in front of your house
doing nothing but wearing a hat and drinking cola.
What’s wrong with that?”
~ from ‘Shiftless’ by Raymond Carver
I was talking to someone on the phone yesterday about what he wanted next in his career. It’s a favorite question of mine, and for the stronger candidates I’ve found elicits some real truths about who they are, what’s important to them, what’s inside of them. Anyhow, we talked about the things that we’d do for nothing, and I laughed as I spoke of my wish to be paid to just sit around and work in my garden with my sweetheart. That sounds good.
What’s wrong with admitting this is what feeds you? That making something with your hands, that getting dirt under your fingernails as you gently place a sprouted sunflower into the soil, so delicate now yet knowing that in a matter of months it will be taller than you. Looking over and seeing someone who gets it, gets that, gets who you are through and through.
This morning my husband and I walked as we do every morning together, around the neighborhood, with the dog, looking at the tiny buds on trees and guessing what certain plants were, he educating me and vice versa on different plants. This is one of the things I had written down years ago that I knew I needed in the person I was to settle down with, one of the things I didn’t insist upon in my younger years. That fierce curiosity and intelligence, the hunger to learn and the gentle capacity to teach without ego. I admire him, you know? Yet not in a look-up-to-him way, because we are equal partners. We both know things, share things, influence each other while embracing each others’ individual identities. I look at him and I am happy. He looks at me and breathes easier. I knew this about him four years ago when we first spoke, even if I couldn’t have predicted where it could take us. I knew, this was in spite of all our obstacles, meant to be.
This afternoon before he left for work, as I typed away, we spoke of Raymond Carver and recalled the trips we’ve taken to observe (you can never truly say retrace, as we each have our own steps and reasons) the places where Carver lived, loved, wrote, and experienced life. During our trans-Pacific romance, when he visited me here in the States I took him down Highway 30 to Clatskanie where Carver was born and is honored, and he shed tears for his most favorite writer, and later as part of our honeymoon, we drove up to Port Angeles where he lived his final years with his beloved Tess Gallagher, visiting his grave, his coffeeshop, and then driving from Seattle to Yakima, taking cues from his letter to Bob Adelman and getting off the interstate to take the old highway along the a River. We got out, we inhaled the quiet, I nestled in the arms of my beloved.
Ten months tomorrow since we tied the knot. My god how beautiful our life is together. No matter the insecurities, no matter the small things that on some days can take hold, at the end of each night he tells me what I mean to him and says turn over, let me rub your back til you fall asleep. And in the morning as we wake up (he usually five or ten minutes after me), we tangle up in each other’s arms and legs, and talk softly about our sleep, our upcoming day, what we want to make for breakfast, and make bets on how soon the dog will come in. And sure enough, our girl will get up, shake, stretch, and meander in, then madly wag her tail near the door with a thwock-thwock-thwock, finding whose hand is nearest the edge of the bed and push her nose into it, snorting loudly to get our attention.
It is a life I’ll never trade for anything in the world.
We are working on adding a little one to our family. I am finding out if my body is able to do it, to create and sustain a life, or if we’ll end up going another route, or if we’re lucky, all of the above. Storebought, donated, homemade, it doesn’t matter to us – we want to be parents. I feel the mama inside of me growing, bursting from the seams at times as I see the neighbor boy and ask him about school and my heart breaks as he tells me he doesn’t go all the much. My husband and he will build and erect our new clothesline together next week and in exchange for his help I’ve promised to hook him up at the skate shop. I watch him look after the younger ones, we sit out, my husband and I, watching the kids playing basketball in the street and riding and scooting and running up and down the sidewalk and we feel calm. This neighborhood brimming with life.
Both of us love our quiet, our solitude together, the ability to wake up and go walk around the back and front yards, pointing out the blossoms or the buds just peeping out of the ground, while the dog simply finds her spot in the sunshine and plops down to enjoy the warmth. And it is on occasion that, after a day like this, an old memory floats by, like a cloud in the sky in summer…you know, when you’d lay in the grass and stare at them amongst the blue, open to all of the possibility. The old memories of past chapters, they are there, but they are just that – in the past. The people we once knew, the relationships we’ve left behind, the experiences who made us who we are today, the scars and the stories and the way we now see each other and say, this is the life. This is where we are meant to be now. Or as he says to me, THIS is what it’s all about, baby.
Sure there are things I do and that he does that bring in what takes care of the house payment and the breakfasts out and the splurges at the garden store and an occasional trip to the beach. The work is necessary and can be both wonderful and challenging depending on the day. I still dread giving bad news, I still delight in the opportunity to provide counsel to encourage a positive outcome, and I still feel wholly part of what I do each day.
While many in years past told me to stop taking things so personally, I’m glad I didn’t listen. I’ve created boundaries, yes, but I still take things to heart. I embrace my sensitivity instead of trying to fight it. I’ve learned to love myself much more than I did in the past, and with that has come the ability to know to push ahead through discomfort and when to say enough’s enough. I truly believe the adage that people come into your life for a reason, season, or lifetime, and accept when those connections need to dissipate. I’ve learned to trust my instincts and I’ve learned that no matter how much I’ve accomplished, the list I have for my own improvement will never go away…it’s simply now in my hands as to how important things are anymore to be “fixed”. As I know now, deep down, I’m already good enough.
To know this brings gratitude. To know this brings hope.
No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”
~ Raymond Carver