The Sunday after Jesse's wedding, I was feeling rather let down and left behind; a classic case of after-the-celebration dumps. Maybe John needs something to do, too, I thought. He came all the way out here from New York for a one-day event. After Mass, I went over to Mary's house and asked politely if I could borrow John for the afternoon, that is, if he was interested in a hike in the hilly country to the east of the valley. I thought that there might still be a chance to see some spectacular wildflowers up there. "You're borrowing me to look at wildflowers?" John asked, looking cranky. "Why do you need me to look for wildflowers?"
"The reservoir is pretty remote. Even with Gabe along I wouldn't feel especially comfortable by myself. This isn't an obligation, or anything. I just thought maybe you'd like to see a different area in California for a change."
He was examining the knuckles on his left hand, rubbing at the joints, frowning. "Security guard duty, that was your idea for NYPD on vacation? You think I come out here just to work?"
"No, I was thinking about a hike with my pal next door." Why were we both getting pissed about this? "But now I see that a hike with a pal was a bad idea. In fact, I think I'll take my own hike right now. See you later." I turned and left the kitchen.
A chair rattled over onto its side as John leaped up and grabbed my left wrist. "Hey, hold on --"
I spun around and whipped my hand from his hold. Glared at him, dared him to touch me again. Maybe a little stung and disappointed a moment ago, now I was just angry. He put up his hands, palms facing me, backing off. "Jesus. Anybody ever tell you that you got eyes like traffic lights when you're mad?"
"Anybody ever tell you that you're an asshole?" I hissed.
His creased forehead relaxed a little, and he smiled faintly, "Just every time I make an arrest. Sully, I'm sorry. I was outta line there. Feeling a bit touchy today, I don't know why."
Oh, touchy? Does that describe anyone else in this scene? Funny, you tend to forget that men might be subject to post-party blues, too.
"Do you want to go or not?" I grumped. "If not, no problem. We're still friends."
"Let's go. I'll pick you a bouquet to make up."
"You will not. Wildflowers on state lands are protected." Still a bit nettled.
"Then I'll be an asshole again and arrest myself." He held out his right hand, for a reconciliatory shake.
I took his hand and squeezed it, trying to stop glaring. "I'm sorry, too. Being left behind by the honeymooners feels -- empty." I decided that I would be more pleasant than I felt. "Just -- kindly, don't ever grab hold of me like that. Okay?"
"Okay. Sorry," he repeated. "Really. Won't ever happen again."
Back in the kitchen, Mary had put the chair upright again, and shook her head as she looked at us. Fighting in the schoolyard, children? "Sorry, Ma," John said.
"Sorry, Mary," I echoed. "Go outside to play," Mary replied.
The reservoir at New Hogan is deep and calm and quiet. They say that the water is lousy with fish, but I've never caught one there, nor has anyone I know personally. There was an equestrian trail there that I wanted to hike, leading up and down hills, and through hidden meadows, around the steep sides of the slopes above the water like a cowpath through a pasture on the side of a mountain. The ups and downs were going to kill my flatland valley muscles, so I put a flat leather halter on Gabe, rather than his loose chain collar. With the harness, he'd be able to drag me up the hills! Mush, Gabe, mush!
"How can it be this different here? We only drove about an hour," John demanded, when we stopped at the top of a hill to see the mountains rising to the east, and the undulating mounds and ridges of the foothills.
"The valley I live in is like the bottom of a lake," I told him. "In fact it was the bottom of a sea eons ago. Now you're up on the shores of that sea. There, down at the bottom of this slope, where it's grassy. See the purple?"
On the eastern side of a hill was a carpet of purple blossoms. I dug my little drawing pad out of my knapsack and did a quick simple sketch of the leaves and the blossoms. I'd thought the flowers were lupines, but they had a leaf more reminiscent of alfalfa. Labeling the colors in pencil, I dated the drawing and looked up to see John watching my face, not the art. "What?" I said sharply.
"Nothin'!" He barked back. "I thought you're a bookkeeper, and here you're an artist."
"Yes, my mother believed in fostering my talent," I said with sarcasm. "I got a new box of 64 crayons every Christmas, and reams of white paper. Rembrandt. Leonardo da Vinci."
He laughed. "Ever get beat for drawing on the wall?"
"No, that was Jesse," I chuckled. "I got walloped for standing by and letting her do it."
Okay, friends again.
Later, while we were taking a break at the halfway point, ready to turn back and head for the van, having a snack of summer sausage and cheese and tangy Granny Smith apples, the conversation turned again to Jesse and Bodie's radiance at their wedding. "You knew Bodie for years," John said, "how come you didn't fall for him instead of Jesse?"
"God, no interest at all, that's why." I looked inward, trying to recall if there had ever been a spark. No, none.
"Ma says you're still in love with yer ex." He fed Gabe a piece of Monterey jack, making him nibble gently and fervently at the bit pinched between his thumb and forefinger.
"I don't know if 'in love with' are the right words. Let's say that I alternate between marveling at what a pig he was, and wishing it had been different."
"But you never found anybody else."
"No, Adam was pretty spectacular." A weak laugh. "Even as a creep, he's hard to forget."
"Christ, what was he like? Sorry, I never understood why women stick with guys who treat them like crap. I see it all the time, and I can never figure it out."
"He was ... beautiful. Maybe like the Hope Diamond. Beautiful but cursed. Irresistible but a mistake. I'm glad I don't have to deal with him anymore, but at the same time, I remember ... times ... when it was good."
"And the sweet memories just cover up all the ugly. Yeah, that's what they all say. I still don't understand."
"Well, Mr. Perfect Know-it-all Cop, does anyone understand why you're not married with twelve kids? Or are you a secret crumb, yourself?" I was right on the edge of rabidly annoyed again. Then I could have pinched myself for my rudeness. "Shit, I'm sorry again, John. I can't seem to stop putting my foot in my mouth up to the kneecap. Your life is none of my business."
He was using his thumb and forefinger to check the pads and webbing of Gabe's toes for sand burrs, and didn't look up to answer. "Hey, I don't care. I just never found anyone I could get along with enough, or who was more interesting than what I do for a living."
Sounded like a bunch of bullshit to me. Maybe I'm not The Infallible Human Lie Detector, but I learned how to discern a half-truth from an expert. John wasn't nearly as good at avoiding the truth as Adam. He was most likely just too red-assed for any woman to live with him.
He got up and dusted his dog-slobbered hands against his shorts. "We better get going or else we're going to be using Gabie as a guide dog."
John sounded tired to me, cynical. I could understand that, him being a cop who saw abuse cases all too often, and then saw them under every armchair and chance comment. Why would anyone choose to be a cop? To know every day that you will have to wade into all the miseries that people come up with to hurt one another -- how could anyone walk into that kind of fire as a daily job? Anyway, I didn't think that Adam was abusive; he had just been, well, himself, Adam, maybe addicted to attention, or the thrill of the chase, maybe deluded as to his own goals. Sometimes I think that once married, he found himself in deeper water than he could swim, and his escape was an act of self-preservation. Who can know?
Aside from his being beautiful, I found it hard to recall what he had looked like. I kept no pictures of him; after so many years, I know I've changed, gotten fatter, different hair color (a little lighter to mask the white at so many of the roots), lots of little wrinkles by the eyes -- how would he have changed? A pot belly? A nice big wart on his nose? Perhaps he was beginning to suffer erectile disfunction?
He came to my door that night, seeking my company and my warmth. I stood in the doorway and desired him with every inch of my skin; every muscle in my body wanted to give in to his gravitational attraction and fall upon him. "It wouldn't be right," I whispered. "The children are here."
"I can't stay," he murmured. "I have to leave."
I shut the door.
And awoke. Sleepily I replayed the feeling of physical arousal, and the visions of the dream. I had looked up into his eyes, and admired his shiny blue surface. I frowned in the dark. Shiny blue surface ... and black mane and tail? A talking ceramic horse, stylized like the old-fashioned nut-cracker soldiers? Good God, Adam symbolized as a talking Christmas toy, not a person at all. Huh! What does that tell me?
When I was very small, I was forbidden to leave the house until a parent was awake. Frequently I would sit in front of the television, watching the test pattern (it had an Indian on it) and keeping an eye on the window to catch the first glint of light in the eastern sky. In summer, the dawn would win, and light would reveal the street outside before the test pattern zipped away to open the broadcast day with the Star Spangled Banner. In winter, the national anthem would have given way to morning local shows on agriculture by the time first sunlight glittered through the trees across the street. Seven o'clock: a parent! Mom, getting up in time to greet Dad when he was coming home from his night shift. Already dressed and morning cereal gulped, I would head out the front door to view the beckoning world.
Still too young to leave the yard by myself (at least without permission, which I would not get that early in the morning), I had a regular course around the sights of the yard as habitual as any fox on his game trail. First, the examination of the front porch. Were the azaleas in bloom? Any spiders have a new web? Wolf spiders would lead me onto the walk to see their deep and funnel-like webs on the hedge. Their gray fuzzy floors were thick as carpets for a spider, and I wished I could see if they, too had a living room behind the dark little tunnel. Then turn right, and follow the perimeter of the house's foundation. Was there a bird's nest in the big forsythia bushes? Any of the tulips up yet?
A deep snow would make the world hushed, except for the distinctive sound of shovels scraping paths on the sidewalks. Look closely at how the flakes pile up, rounded mounds of tiny crystals making a cap on the low shrubs, and thick stripes on the tall ones.
Tap a juniper or arborvitae into the palm of one hand, and then rub a thumb across to see if the bush is infected with mites, like Mom and Dad showed me one day before they sprayed. Peek into the garage just to see the sameness of the boxes and tools stored in there. Then the roses, the white one, the red one, the pink one. Coral bells, with perfect tiny, tiny pink blossoms dangling from a reddish stalk waving above their rusty looking leaves. A leaf-hopper, minutely stared at, reveals that it isn't really just a green bug, but has a delicate pattern of rose and blue lines segmenting the green of its back.
Wrap up the tour with the towering rhododendrons and their shiny dark leaves, and the hosta with its stripes of white and numerous greens. The white-berries-bush of the soft fragile leaves and fleshy white grape-sized fruit. Wonders, miracles, life.
To this day I have not a clue to what the white-berries-bush was, and have never seen another. Replaced by a rhododendron of pale lavender, the white-berries-bush lives on only in my memory, a must-see on the morning tours of childhood.
Did I see all those favorites the morning or evening before? No matter, perhaps a black and yellow garden spider will have taken up residence somewhere, or a praying mantis will startle me with its camouflage disappearing as it moves; will the red rose or the white be the first to show color in the bud?
No one tells me to stay inside the house when I get up these days. I begin my tour of my own outdoors with the first light, before the sun comes up over the houses. In summer, my roses, a white for Mom, a red for Dad. An orangey-red one, a lavender one, a yellow one with red stripes. My ferns, my camellias. Which of the birds are visiting this morning?
As that small child, soaking up the first sights of the day was like a preparation for the rest of the child's work, playing with neighborhood kids (most of whom didn't get up nearly as early), wielding the crayons to try to make lions and pretty girls come alive on the white paper, following Mom around to see how she did things. An indispensable part of the day, taking on fuel, filling up the time, filling up the need for life.
I'm glad I got into that habit as a kid, because with Bodie and Andersol gone from next door, and a quite differently organized family, I relied on my morning tours of my house and garden to give me fuel and structure for my days. Oh, I knew I would still have weekends with them all, but dang, I missed my pals.