Saturday, January 29, 2011


I made dinner tonight even though I was bored and disengaged by every part of the process: the thinking about it beforehand, the preparation of individual ingredients, the putting together of the parts, the not-too-successful attempts to taste, the serving. Never in my life have I cared less about cooking than I did tonight.

It's the first time in weeks that I have cooked, and though my husband has been doing a great job keeping himself and me—when I could eat—fed, logically he deserved a home-cooked meal made for him no matter how little I wanted to make it.

In the last few weeks, I've gone through every stage of an illness.

First, it started with a sore throat and congestion, just like nearly every schoolyear cold. Easy peasy. I could handle that. When that started up, E and I went out to eat with friends of ours. One asked me why I was out when I was clearly ill. "I don't cancel plans," I said. And, I really don't. And I did want to be there, out with them.

The beginning of the week rolled around, the sore throat worsened, and when Thursday came, the day I was supposed to get my wisdom tooth removed, I called the dentist's office. I told the receptionist, "I don't cancel appointments, but I need to know what to do. I have a wicked sore throat." The doctor's office canceled the appointment for me, telling me I was too sick for surgery.

Then, the worst began. Instead of getting better, I got stupider. I'd find myself in a room, head aching beyond belief, and not remember why I was there. I would get stuck, standing somewhere, unsure where I was going. The sweating came in wretched, reeking waves, followed nearly immediately by body-wracking shivers. I slept for hours and hours, and when I would wake, the bed would stink with my sweat and I would feel as if my brain had been working so hard on something. One day, every time my eyes opened for a moment, I knew, I just knew I had figured out every aspect of our healthcare problem in the United States while I slept. I couldn't remember any of it, but that's okay, because I hadn't really figured out anything, as I was sick with stupidity.

Sunday night, my fever spiked and I dragged myself away from the computer, where I was trying to put together some kind of coherent substitute plans, and to the toilet, where my stomach did its best to purge itself of illness. After puking, I laid down on the cold tile. I would never move again.

I don't leave people hanging though, especially my students, so I did move and I did finish the plans. And then my bed, my sweet, stinky bed embraced me again, and I slept for almost 20 hours.

The sleep soothed my fever, and what remained was the kind of headache that blinds and deafens. I was no longer hot, I wasn't puking, but I could hardly see from the pain. Grades were due Tuesday though, so I doped up the following day and went to school. I didn't turn my head all day, but instead turned my whole body to see things beyond my peripheral vision. Everything I ate or drank tasted like metal, so I didn't consume much, other than orange juice. I drank gallons of that.

What's left? A cough. The cough is annoying and disruptive, but it is possible to live with. Something worse remains though, something that would terrify me if I could care enough about it. Apathy. While I cared all the way through the worst of my illness about what strings were left untied while I was checked out of the world, now that I've checked back in, I couldn't care any less.

I don't want to do anything. Friends and family have called, and I haven't called them back. I don't care if I leave them hanging. I have performed a few basic requirements of the gardening season as I could, but only because they are hardwired, no pleasure or frustration, just nothing. I canceled an appointment Friday. Today, I skipped out on events that I cared about in a previous life.

You know what I do care about? My bed, and that's it. So, the current me, an appointment-canceller, an apathetic teacher, and not-real friend. When is this stage going to end?

I'd feel bad, but I'm too busy not caring.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On Having Enough Space

In my garden, arugula has naturalized. It mingles with the weeds under the lemon tree, it springs up along the edges of the beds, and it even appears in my lawn. Though it grows everywhere on its own, I plant it every year anyway. When arugula grows where I plant it, crowded together in a concentrated space, it yields tender, uniform, pretty green leaves.

Its tender leaves yield it vulnerable to the slugs that hunt in the thick forest its leaves create, yet it is mild and easy to harvest with sharp shears.

But when arugula springs up on its own, somewhere separate from other plants, somewhere with sun all to itself and where the wind can catch each frill on each leaf, it grows completely differently.

The leaves are wildly irregular and wildly beautiful. They are veined with burgundy and speckled with silvery hairs. Wiry and tough, the plants hold up better to garden marauders. I'm less likely to toss them in my salad. I'm more likely to stop and admire them.


If you'd like to see what others across the world are harvesting this week, visit Daphne's Dandelions to see the roundup for Harvest Monday.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Long Nights

Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter kept awake with me two nights in a row as the narrator, Hannah herself, told me the story of her life. My husband lay sick and feverish beside me, and I listened to the sound of his breathing as I read all night. Last winter, we spent too many hours in an emergency room when pneumonia struck him. We may be young and therefore seemingly safe, but after sitting with him through the hospital hours, tubes, machines, and every-breath-a-fight, I don't trust those lungs of his. And so, I listen to them.

When I read so late into the night, the book and my life tangle up in dreamy ways that don't necessarily happen in the daytime, when sunlight sets the words firmly on the page. At night, at 3am and 4am, those words seem less tied to the paper and take up a sound and a voice in my head.

Through those two long nights over Christmas, Hannah set out to tell me the story of her life in a soft, even voice with a Kentuckian limestone edge, but I heard the story of her marriages. Twice widowed, once by war and once by age, Hannah knows a thing or two about a partnership, things I'm just learning.

Lessons about marriage sound trite and obvious, but learning them is difficult and beautiful. Nothing belongs to one of us. Illness doesn't belong to one. Joy doesn't belong to one. Memories get jumbled between the two of us. And what one doesn't know about the other, one wants to, just to be able to feel that memory in the brush of an arm.

But more important than what we don't know and what we do know is the work we do together, the life we create that is bigger and more difficult and sadder and more fun than life without the other. The place in the world that Hannah and her second husband Nathan create says goodbye to most who enter it; but as those people leave, they leave better because of Hannah and Nathan's hard work. What a goal for a marriage: to create a metaphorical place that welcomes and loves those who both enter and leave.

After a few days of thermometers and never-changing-out-of-pajamas, my husband was up again and leaning against the wind of everyday life. I finished Hannah Coulter. The Christmas holidays ended, along with the vacation time that surrounds them. My husband and I have come out of this concentrated time of sickness and celebration, freetime and fever, sleep and sleeplessness a little different than when we entered it. We've made our place in the world a little bit better for others, yet we're not even close to done. We've got a lot of placebuilding to go.