My friend Lichen used to be hairdresser to the stars in
Beverly Hills. Now he lives a
couple of miles from me in the depths of the country, and is a landscape
gardener. All I have to do is
drive a couple of miles, turn onto a side road which becomes a dirt track,
leave the car, climb down the steep side of the hill, and I can get a free
Beverly Hills haircut on his deck. It’s a sunny day, and it’s tranquil there, overlooking his garden,
listening to the snip of scissors and our gossipy laughter.
One false move: my sister pivots to the left while standing
at work and injures her knee. She had surgery on it five years ago – both she
and our brother have been plagued by knee problems all their lives – and it
looks like she’ll be having it again. She works twelve hour night shifts at the local hospital, and can’t find anyone to replace her, so she works the remaining nine hours on crutches
without complaining. Now she’s
mired in the bureaucracy of workers’ comp, trying to get it repaired so she can
get back to work.
The diner is long and narrow. It’s run by an ancient Chinese
couple, who may or not speak English. She doesn’t know, because all she orders is coffee. As soon as they
see her come in the door, they pour a cup of coffee and push it across the
cracked pink formica counter. She
takes it to one of the booths with its peeling green vinyl upholstery and
miniature jukebox. Some of them
work, some of them don’t, and she always puts in a quarter just in case,
mentally betting on the result. Today is a win.
My birthday barbecue is rained out, just like my sister’s
was nine days ago. Neither of us
can believe this, and we commiserate on the misery of the weather. I cannot remember it ever raining in
June. Usually, it rains from early December until March or so, then it’s sunny until the
winter rains start again. Having said that, it’s been warm enough for a picnic
on the beach on Christmas Eve, and one of my favorite pictures of my late
father is of him wading in the ocean at Bodega Bay on New Year’s Day.
As soon as I get up, I know something is wrong. June is nowhere to be seen. When she doesn’t come for breakfast, I
begin to worry. If she’s outside,
she always comes running to the door as soon as she hears the food hit the
dish. Unlike most cats, she comes when she’s called, so when she doesn’t appear to my repeated
calls, my concern grows. When she
misses both meals, I’m near panic.
Everyone tells me not to worry, but in my heart, I feel sure that I’ll
never see her again.
I spent hours looking for June today. The search made me realize how much
junk there is on this property. James lived here for more than thirty years,
and it seems he never threw anything away. There seems to be an endless supply of old cars, trailers
full of junk, and other stuff. All the trailers seem to be open, and
anything I had trouble wrenching open was cat-free. I walked down the logging road to the main road, along it,
then down the driveway. I stopped at the front house and met the new tenant,
but no June.
I’m trying to stay hopeful, but it’s a struggle. I make a flyer and put it in the
neighbors’ mailboxes. I post
it on the utility poles on the main road, at the post office and store. I figure everyone eventually goes to
the store or the post office, so if anyone sees her they’ll know whom to call. Next I’ll take the flyers to the
shelter, which I’m dreading, partly because the shelter always upsets me, and
partly because I know she isn’t there and that will be last flame of hope,
Missing June is like a constant, throbbing bass note in a
song. Everything reminds me of
her, every day a struggle. I have lost two cats in two
months, and that’s too much. At least Henry Etta had a long life – the vet said
she was very old, and she died in her sleep, peacefully – but June wasn’t even
three years old. She was glowing
with health and beauty and had her whole life ahead of her. I battle through the days, keeping
busy, but at night, when I finally stop, the grief monster catches up with me.
When you’re a kid, you can’t wait to grow up. Your vision of
being grown–up is staying up late, eating pizza whenever you want, and never
having to do homework again. It does not include paying taxes; constant financial worries; pregnancy
fears or menstrual agony (another of those delightful life choices like death
or old age – you decide!); being served with divorce papers at work; writing
your father’s obituary at his desk where his glasses wait for his return; or looking for your beautiful cat who has vanished when she is less than
three years old.
My sister and I spend the day together. It’s good to get out of the house, and
the sun is finally shining. We have gift certificates to spend at the bookstore, but I can’t bring myself
to buy anything. In a way, it’s nicer
to know that I can buy something than
to actually buy it. It’s a lovely store, and it’s fun to look around. We also meet up
with a friend for lunch. But June is never far from my thoughts, and the nights
are hardest, when her sister ventures into the darkness.
I am terrible in emergencies. I love the ocean at night. I spend a few minutes each day regretting my laziness, but
do nothing to change it. I create
chaos while coveting tidiness. I
dream of bright skyscrapers and the beauty of cement sidewalks. I wish I had even the slightest trace
of artistic talent. I am
superstitious and equally unsure of the existence of God and ghosts. I do believe in retail therapy,
however. I don’t know my times
tables. I read quickly. I want to overcome my fears without any
effort. I open the door, start again.
I have to learn to live with this. Last night, I kept my
remaining cat in all night. I thought she would go berserk trying to get out,
the way she used to before the advent of the cat flap, but she didn’t. I woke
up before 5:00 and couldn’t find her.
I was immediately convinced that she’d found some secret way out of the
house. I finally found her sitting
still, waiting for a mouse or bug she was tracking. Relief flooded me, and I felt sorry for my cat, having such
an overprotective mother.
When they got married, his wife convinced him to buy a
sprawling house in the suburbs. The bigger, the better, she said, her heels clacking on the hardwood
floors, her long nails clicking against granite counters in the kitchen, marble
in the bathroom. Two sinks, she
decreed, though they never got dressed at the same time. It was the least she
could expect. Didn't he want the best for her? He went along with
it, because he thought she was too good for him and he couldn’t believe
she had ever agreed to marry him in the first place.
The downside to this manicured suburban perfection was the rules and regulations set down by the homeowners’ association. You could
not paint your house – or even your mailbox – certain colors, or have an old
car up on blocks outside to work on.
You’d get in trouble for neglecting your landscaping. He hadn’t mowed
the lawn in weeks, and loved the wildflowers that grew there now. He lay in the
grass, invisible from the house. His wife called him, but he lay still in the
grass, imagining that he had become part of it and was home at last.
He picks up his cell phone. After two rings, her voicemail kicks
in. “This is Leila. You know what to do.” Beep. He clicks off, dials again,
listens to the same eight words again, over and over. He closes his eyes, listening to her voice as intensely as
he does music. He holds onto her voice in the dark of the night, imagining that
he’ll see her again tomorrow, see her beautiful face, hear her sultry voice.
Once more and then he’ll sleep. But the number’s been disconnected. After all,
she’s been dead for a month.
I’m blocked. I’m now a day late for submitting an article.
Although I got an extension, so I’m not technically late, I can’t bring myself
to churn out the requisite 300 words. Usually, I can just turn it on, and just look at all the 100 Words I’ve
written, not to mention more than nine years of blogging. Ironically, I have
been able to start blogging again after a week off from shock, and I’ve kept up
with these 100 Words this month, but I can’t seem to write this overdue short article.
Joel likes everything to be in order. He sees the world as a
problem, an alarming array of chaos which must be tamed and put in order. He knows perfectly well that he can’t control
everything, though sometimes during the long bus ride to work, he toys with the
idea of being King of the World, deciding what things he’d keep and which would
go. For one thing, he thinks, I’d have the buses run on time every day. Every
single day. He luxuriates in the thought as he stands in the rain at the bus
For a girl whose father wrote a book about spiders (well,
about the effects of pesticides on spiders), I’m not a big fan. This is
unfortunate, since my hippie hovel abounds in both spiders and bugs, a mystery,
since spiders are supposed to eat the bugs. I must have slacker spiders,
laid-back dope-smoking spiders. The one thing they are efficient at is
web-building. There are cobwebs everywhere. The other day, I swept them all off
the balcony. The next morning, I found a huge, outsized web in the balcony’s
arch, a giant spider “Screw you."
I can’t explain his gentleness, this beautiful man who was
rejected by his Mormon family for being who he is. He never shows any bitterness
toward them or anyone, even the lovers who broke his heart. He simply grows his
flowers, surrounding himself with the beauty of nature, living quietly with his
big dog and small cat, far from other people, at peace with himself. He has
built a good life, with friends who love him, and creates lasting beauty
wherever he goes. His family will never know what they’re missing. They’re the
ones making the sacrifice.
I leave the doors open all day, now that the weather is
finally warmer. Even when I'm gone all day. I
realize this is a real luxury, after years of living in cities where you make
sure that everything is locked up before running even a short errand. While I
was gone, the house seems to have been invaded by a bird, since there was fresh bird
poop on my couch when I got home. Oddly, there was no sign of the bird itself, or
even feathers showing that my cat had been in a battle with it. Another
Most people find their office cubicles depressing, but not
Marlene. She often says, “I’d never take an office even if They offered it to
me,” unaware of the eye rolling behind her back which always accompanies this
statement. Marlene is not popular, though she is completely unaware of this
fact. After all, she’s the one who always circulates the office birthday cards, and brings in the tasteless slab of sheet cake,
balancing it precariously in the elevator, getting icing on her thumbs. She
never even thinks about it, assuming that everyone likes her as she says “Good
She was still rinsing off her hair in the shower when her
husband told her he was leaving. “What, honey?” she called, thinking he wanted her to pick up milk on the way home. He came into
the bathroom and repeated the statement. She turned off the water and
emerged, wrapping herself in a towel. “What are you talking about?” she asked,
dripping on the bath mat.
“I’m leaving. It’s over. I’m sorry,” he said, edging toward
the door. As the door closed behind him, she found herself rerunning
the scene in her mind. With clothes on.
She likes things to be small. Is that so wrong? All her
toiletries, for example, are travel-sized, although she never travels.
She has never owned a passport or flown on a plane, and doesn’t want to. That’s
for other people, not her. She doesn’t have time for foreign places and strange
food and ungodly people. In fact, it’s a good thing they live so far away. She
rearranges the miniature bottles, thinking that they make her bathroom look so
much bigger. She hums as the setting sun shines through the window, glinting on the bottles.
You are always willing to help. You rarely lose your temper,
but you hold a grudge. You love your cat, but not your mother. You never go to
the movies. You love to read. You have never fully explored your many gifts.
You still seem like a child. You are wiser than your years. You are a good
driver. You never worry about flying. You never think about death. You never
think about tomorrow. You have already forgotten about the past. You have
managed to collect a lot of things while eluding the grasp of materialism and
greed. You are.
My landlord is redoing the water system for the entire
property. It’s a huge undertaking, and like all such things, is taking longer
than expected. He hired someone to cut a trench down the middle of the half
mile long driveway, then put the pipes in, connected them, filled the hole and
had someone come and grade it. No wonder the previous owner never did it, passing on years of deferred maintenance. Of course my house is the only one which doesn’t
have water but does have complications. He’s still working on it as the day
Working at the dress shop was partly a favor to the owner,
who is a friend, and partly for the extra money. But it’s turned out to be a
revelation. Most women seem to have no idea what they really look like. Lovely,
slim women try on clothes that look great on them, only to exclaim in disgust
how “fat” they look. No matter how often she tries to tell them they’re wrong,
they refuse to believe her. Looking in the mirror, she resolves to change her
own view of herself. But it’s harder than it sounds.
When they bought the motel, he was sure that they’d make a
fortune. She wasn’t so sure, but went along with the idea. Maybe he was right. "Who knows?", she thought at the time. No-one could have predicted that a new highway would be
built just a few miles away, making the road their motel was on obsolete. Now
she only had two rooms made up at any given time, and never turned off the neon
“No Vacancy” sign. She drained the
pool, watching the water vanish in the desert sun, along with their hopes and
All it would take was one big win. Just one. It was
always around the corner, and the shining hope was always right in front of
him. He considered studying the racing form to be homework of a sort, and it
only made sense that it was more important than helping the kids with their
homework. If he hit it big, he’d have time to help. Or he could hire a tutor. He couldn't understand why his wife couldn’t see the logic. He placed his bets behind her back. What she didn’t know
wouldn’t hurt her.
The water project is almost over! The only thing left is
for the filled-in trench in front of my house to settle so my landlord can rake
the gravel over it. In the meantime, I no longer have to buy bottled water to
drink or wash the dishes in hose water.
The faucets were clogged for a while with debris from all the work, and
the air in the pipes is still working its way through, so sometimes the water
temperature fluctuates, which is especially delightful in the shower. Sometimes I think I should get paid to live here.
I look back at the twenty-five days I have endured without June
with amazement. Each day has been a battle through grief, anger, guilt, and the
unknown. I feel as if I have climbed a mountain, slowly, painfully, and am
looking back at the long way I have come in astonishment. How did I get there
from here? How have I survived so many days without my beautiful, beloved girl? Looking forward into the near and distant future, I can’t imagine how I
will get through that. The rest of my life, however long, will
be without her.