In eleven days, I’ll vow to my partner to seek love with him wherever life takes us. We’ve spent the last several weeks looking through boxes at his past, a past that includes the chasm of a loved one lost, his first wife. I’ve peered over his shoulder trying to see through his eyes, trying to see her but mostly seeing his love for her, raw and fierce and yet fully aware of her human nature. He’s loved intensely before, and, somehow, he can do it again. We sort through boxes of poems, bills, photos, knickknacks, and a thousand items that make a life, but still I can’t really see her, this woman whom he lost and will always love, because why wouldn’t he? I can just see him and the abundant love he has for both of us.
Last night, I sorted through the details of my children’s lives with my first husband, their father. Sometimes we navigate these with ease, and sometimes not. Somewhere between the ordinary (the driver’s license not yet had, the courses for next term, the funds available for college payments that hover closer than ever) we derailed the way people who once loved each other but now clearly do not tend to derail. I’ve spent the twenty-four hours since then ruminating, crying, cursing, crying more, and writing emails desperately trying to assert my view of what is best for the two beings I love more than anyone or anything else — my sons. Closer to hate or at least intense dislike than to love, I’ve spent a day and night without sleep filled with a venom that appalls me, a ferocity had by a mother protecting her young. It’s all mixed with the sense of the failure of the love that created these imperfect yet perfect beings, my sons. I don’t ever seem to fully adjust to loving the two while struggling so mightily with the one who also contributed to their DNA.
So, tired of crying in the house, fatigued from lack of sleep and a plenitude of arguments that get nowhere except to a lower level of Dante’s hell, one occupied by ex-partners inflamed by their love for their young and ignited by their vitriol that can’t seem to permanently be doused by any substance or reason, I went for a walk. That’s on my mental calm-down checklist: a walk, often accompanied by a playlist that reminds me of love and truth. Shoes on and soundtrack playing, I set out to find at least a moment’s reprieve from my distress.
So much for exercise and fresh air soothing the soul. I cried the whole way, almost aborting the walk after a block for fear of drawing the attention of neighbors. I arrived home without answers or comfort and with a rather drippy nose and blotchy face. I wandered to the backyard, where my older and I have been planting a newly expanded garden that’s part wedding gift from my mom and part therapy for me. The peonies, buds clenched and covered with the persistent ants enjoying the nectar of the fetal flower stopped my tears. Watching ants is a pleasure I learned from my father, who made them his study towards the end of his tenure as a Biology professor. “Watch one ant,” he says. “Watch how it moves and where it goes. It’s hard, but watch.”
So I watched. There were two, but given the size of a peony bud, it wasn’t too challenging to keep track of their separate treks across the ball of petals-to-be. Contrary to gardeners’ tales, ants don’t help open the peonies. They are hedonistic and hungry, drawn to the intoxicating sweetness of the plant’s carbohydrate-laden sap that coats the petals. It’s a feast, and watching them walk their drunken circles tugged me from my ruminating about the pains of loving and then losing. I pull out my phone-cum-camera and lose myself in the bud-planet and it’s two armored inhabitants.
And somehow my mind is quieter than it has been in days. After I get my fill of the ants getting theirs, I look at my garden from the ant’s perspective. I search out the small and find instead the singularity. Infinity exists in the ant and its peony, the golden ratio in the spiral begonia, life and death in the decapitated I-don’t-know-what that our bunny friend/foe rejected for lunch and discarded in the dirt. I’m lost in a peace I’ve not known for weeks, a silence of the mind and heart that soothes me in a way my macroscopic way of seeing the world has not. Heart rate slowed, I amble across the yard, bending over and under to see what is small and forgotten.
Then I find the lilac. It’s buds are tight, but the intoxicating scent somehow escapes the clamped bundles of pink. Attuned to the small as one becomes when one wakes up to what is within plain sight but hard to find for roar of the bigger picture, I finally see it: a single open flower. Coins in a purse, poems in a box, and this, a single flower open on a lilac bush. This woman whom my soon-to-be husband loved is remembered in so many ways, but one is via a lilac bush on the other side of the state, at the home of her parents who can grieve her while loving me. While I’m not one for signs, I am partial to reminders and metaphor.
In eleven days, my partner and I make vows of tightly wrapped petals. The love we know now, as strong as it may be, is but a small start of what’s to come. It’s that peony bud, that first lilac bloom. Universe willing, we’ll have a long season to bloom together, lasting past the spring bleeding hearts and fickle tulips and enduring until some bunny or just a sudden and late frost returns us to that same universe. And as we travel this journey together, we carry those we’ve loved. His first love and wife. My sons. Even my ex-husband. From what was very good and what was very bad, along with the vast experiences that are somewhere in between, we have learned some small bit of what love is. We’re filled with snapshots of moments of what it means to love and what it means to let loved ones go, with all the in-between blurring in the motion of the years past. With all of that experience, we start again. Together. A bud. Perhaps with ants, drinking what sweetness we produce, learning that love can happen even after loss. And so we begin to open.
My love to you always, my partner, my friend, my fellow traveler.