Since Madeline’s been gone, it’s just felt different around here. Elihu’s noticed it too. The small flock that remains is a rather dull bunch, as something about the attack on the coop the other night has the birds behaving a bit less like themselves – and ironically, perhaps in some cases, a bit more like themselves – than before. For the most part the gals all meander about as they’ve always done, only we notice they’re not quite as brave as they used to be. They don’t take over the porch (a frustrating but endearing activity), they don’t seem to make it as far as their once-favorite flowering quince bush, and in general they stay uncharacteristically close to the house most of the day. Austin, our slightly neurotic guinea fowl, deprived the past few months of his best pal Maximus, has been acting quite nasty to his coop mates, challenging poor Baldy, pulling every last feather from his royal rear end, as well as running after the hens in fruitless circles as they cluck in distress. And since Madeline – the one rather calming element in the the group – has been gone, he has become something of a bully. Elihu and I both know we need to get him some hens, but emails to local chicken friends turn up no prospects. He’s becoming a drag on the flock, and his bursts of incredibly loud calls of ‘chank chank chank’ (I suppose him to be expressing some inner conflict – at least he can get it out, good for him in that regard) that sometimes last for five minutes at a stretch and permeate every closed window with ease – well, this is becoming much more than an occasional nuisance.
The absence of our goose Maximus has changed things too. We hadn’t lost any hens to predators over the past two years, the time since we’d had him. But with the coming of warm weather, we’ve had a handful of losses. No coincidence. I guess a two foot tall white gander made an impression on the neighborhood fox and raccoon. With that imposing figure no longer standing guard in the door of the coop at sunset, the critters have nothing to dissuade them. And no one to slow them down, either. Poor Bald Mountain did his regal best the night we lost Madeline; he had put up something of a fight with the attacker, and was covered in new, open scratches and was limping even more than before (in the past he’s lost a spur and returned home quite beaten up after fending off potential invaders). The back half of Baldy’s comb had been bitten off, and though the wound was beginning to clot, he was covered in fresh blood when we first saw him.
We came home shortly after dark to a message on our phone machine from our neighbor. He had discovered Bald Mountain on his front door step. Putting the story together it seems that after the confusion of the attack, he’d ended up fleeing, running through the woods and across the field to our neighbor’s house, where they found him on the stairs of their front door, seeking safety. Neighbor Chad was more than a hero, and wrestled the rooster onto his lap, driving him home on his four wheeler. But by then the damage was done. Madeline had been lost in the skirmish, and Azalea, as we later came to learn, had hunkered down in the darkness for her survival. What a good boy is our Bald Mountain, what a fight he must have given. How stunned and impressed we were at how far he’d traveled to save himself (it is quite a distance). And that he sought out a house, a light, something he clearly recognized to represent the safety of home – it all has us even more grateful for our poor old fellow. Now, if only Austin, that damned nuisance of a guinea, would let poor Baldy alone.
It occurs to me, as I look about at my tail-less rooster, my psycho guinea fowl and my frantic hens, that this is no longer a harmonious homestead.
It’s also becoming a drag to go out these days. To get dressed, to make myself presentable enough to go before people. Somehow I made it through the last few weeks of school, but these days, like a blossom bursting forth overnight from a tiny bud, I too seem to have expanded my own previous dimensions in a very short time. Regret mounts when I think back to last summer; I inhabited a body of a sexy size 10 (for me this was a huge personal victory) and yet now I find I’m surfing Ebay at 2 am searching for fat shirts with empire waists and stretch waist pants, some even size 16. Sixteen? When the fuck did this happen? I ask myself over and over as I find myself unable to button the waist on the few remaining ‘fat’ pants I find in some long-forgotten storage bins. Seriously, how did I get here? Oh, I know how. The stress of this past year really got to me – the new music I’ve needed to learn and play, the unpredictable and horrific panic attacks I’ve suffered with (yes, they are no mere annoyance, they are irrational yet real experiences of pure terror) and the relentless nature of single motherhood have called for a deep soothing, one that only entire tubs of hummus and double portions of curry chicken with a half bottle of red wine can provide. Yeah, I’ve been riding this train for a while now, and now it’s finally arriving at its destination.
The kid”ll be gone on Tuesday for a good month and a half stretch, and finally I won’t have to concern myself with the preparation of three meals plus snacks all day long. I have no new music to learn, no one to perform for. ‘Me’ time is finally here. But then there’s that catch – the one my astute child himself brings up when I talk about how much ‘progress’ I intend to make in his absence. “I know what you’ll end up doing, Mommy” he says, his voice dripping with cynicism, “You’ll say how fat you are, you’ll look at all the work you have to do at the Studio and all the stuff to do around here, you’ll feel sorry for yourself and then drive to Stewart’s and get a bag of chips and a bottle of wine. Then you’ll tell yourself it’s just for tonight. But it won’t be.” Really? Am I that bad? I wonder. Am I that obvious? Crap. With a month to myself stretching before me, I feel hope and despair rising up inside of me all at once. Ich.
I haven’t done my taxes yet this year either. Filed for an extension. But I’ll need to file for another soon. Plus I need to re-apply for food stamps, something which in of itself is very much like filing taxes. This is support we desperately need at this point; living these past three months without that help has been pretty brutal. Between having to eat and wanting things such as a bike, a bike rack to carry said bike, orthodontics and bass lessons, it’s been tough. Time’s been at a premium too, as with all the outside work my new job requires, I just haven’t had the time to sift through a year’s financial information. So this too is something I have on my growing to-do list for the time ahead. And then I remember the bag of chips, the bottle of wine… Yeah, this kind of a desk-bound project is likely to inspire a desire to consume empty calories. When you’re at this end of the spectrum, it’s kinda hard to remember what it was to live at the other end of it – it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to be the super diet-conscious, portion-conscious, yoga class-attending person that you once were long ago. But I’ll find my way back, eventually. I hope.
There is also the garage to deal with. Looks like a bomb went off inside. The detritus of a long, unforgiving winter. My office is filled with bins marked ‘to file’, ‘to archive/scan’, ‘to do, medium importance’, ‘to-do, urgent’ (now that’s kinda funny, the bin’s been sitting there for months, untended), piles of Elihu’s art need to find a home, piles of clothing I can no longer fit into sit, waiting, while mice leave tiny turds all over them and begin to pull at the threads… Water continues to seep into my basement, and a white, fluffy mold has burst through my paint job of a couple years ago, sending a funky smell (and millions of funky-smelling spores too, no doubt) into the air. Piles of hand-me-downs sit, waiting to be put away, as well as do a thousand other tiny artifacts of our life. I know that my situation is not so far from most folks, and certainly I am not the only single parent with an extra heaping of life on their plate. But still… I just shake my head in deepest wonder…. How does everyone else do it?
Elihu and I spend a fair amount of time on the streets of Saratoga, watching the people walk past. He busks, I sit on a bench, read and watch. And I wonder about each one of these people. They all look so well-tended, so healthy. They wear trendy clothes, they sit outside at the hip restaurants and spend $200 on dinner without batting an eye. How do they do it? What do they do for a living? Do they have bins of un-filed crap at home like me? Yes, they’re out strolling the boulevard, looking fine, but are they happy? What kind of thoughts do they have? What motivates them? Do they feel fulfilled? Empty? Searching? If one didn’t ask these questions, it would seem that everyone is doing just fine, doing exceptionally well, thank you. I search their eyes for answers, I lean in to overhear bits of conversations in hopes of finding answers. They give no clues away. Perhaps their basements are moldy and full of piles too. Maybe not. They just look so good on the outside, there’s no telling.
I think back on the chapters of my life in which I felt the most promise, the most fulfilled, the most in balance. And, ironically, for all the moaning I’d done last year about turning 50, I can in retrospect say that for about half that year I felt the best that I had in a long time. And the time before that in which I remember feeling really good about things was when Elihu was a toddler – I’d successfully lost 55 post-baby pounds, I had a husband, a child and a home I loved, I was singing regularly in front of a top-notch, swinging big band, and life felt wonderful. Before that, it was a time in Chicago when I was playing in tons of bands, on the move all the time, making music I loved and being nearly constantly in the company of dear friends. These were the times I felt things to be most balanced in my life, and thank goodness I have those memories – they remind me of how it felt, how it might feel once again, if all goes well. It may take a little alone time to consider the new recipe I need these days to find myself living a balanced life once again; it’s my hope that a little reflection will re-invigorate my quest and bring some answers to light.
I know it’s important that I use my time wisely and get stuff done – but I also know it’s important to find peace in doing simply nothing at all. And, somewhere in between, lies that perfect balance. Here’s hoping I can come close.