"That’s how we find our way outward and onward. By holding onto beauty hardest. By cradling it like the cure that it is." - Cheryl Strayed (as "Dear Sugar" for the Rumpus)
Last summer, no matter how bone-weary I was after work or whether it was muggy enough to make my shirt cling to my back with sweat, I still would trek most days to the pond near my home to watch the sunset. Even as mosquitoes bit my ankles and lightning streaked the sky, I would stubbornly stand there and let the mauve and lavender hues take over my sight. I stayed there till I was bathed in twilight and the crickets would tell me it was time to go make dinner. Then I would make my way home on the bike path in the half-dark, led by the heavy scent of lilacs.
I live in the Boston area, but unlike most of my friends I opted to move to a more suburban town. One of the reasons I moved to Arlington was to be near Spy Pond, an oasis left over by the melting of the last ice age, a remnant of an ancient time that has endured the onslaught of urbanization. Even though summer is my least favorite season, I am fond of watching the sunset at Spy Pond. Born in Brooklyn in an area lacking much in trees or natural bodies of water, my mind has always hunted beauty. This tireless hunt is what made me voracious for books and music as an adolescent, what has always made me adore animals and express that adoration from the time I could talk. It is the hunger and pursuit of beauty that kept me sane even as I lived for years in suffocatingly close quarters with a woman who was not.
In a recent two year time span (2010-12), I lost three-fourths of my family unit, to cancer and kidney disease. My mother and grandmother died only a few months apart, and my grandfather just last August. My maternal grandparents raised me; my mother was more like the crazy aunt, but still she was my blood and at one point there had been love there before the drugs turned her mean. To add to the losses, after the deaths of my mother and grandmother, but shortly before my grandfather passed, I separated from my partner of nine years.
When you are with someone for close to a decade, and have lived with them for nearly a third of that time, it is more like a divorce than a break-up, complete with a palimony payment agreement and the bitter splitting of once co-owned assets and animals.
Months later, AAA and Audubon membership cards still bearing both our names arrived at my new address. People sent thank you cards addressed to the both of us for attending their weddings, and I tried (and sometimes succeeded) in not giving in to the twinge of bitterness I could feel prickling my pulse. A few months later, when my grandfather died, I did not notify my ex, even though he was the one with me when I last saw my grandfather alive, at the hospital after heart surgery and hooked up to the dialysis machine. Even if he was the one who held my hand and told me he would be there for me, but broke it off a week later, he won't (and does not to this day) know that the man he wished well has long since died. And I still struggle to understand how two people once so close cannot share this knowledge, how something other can death can cause such a deep divide, even as it seems I should as a child of divorce who has been disowned by her own parents more than once. I struggle with it even harder now after recently losing someone else I loved and not understanding how you can go from speaking every day and being each other's source of joy, to being as distant as strangers.
But still, last summer I stumbled to Spy Pond every night to watch the advancing dusk. I checked out poetry books from the library, and sat up late listening to music. I invited love in even after losing it. My heart hunted beauty under the ravages of desperate loss to remind me that despite all the death around me, I was and am still alive. And this summer, I will be making my nightly excursions to the pond again, seeking solace and beauty among the swans as the sun sets.
And really, that's all I can do.