Trees are blocking our driveway at home. It’s been so warm; they are probable casualties of lightning and rain, the same furious storms that lash the lake with lightning in summer.
I’m in a desert miles away, but my father texted me six pictures of our blocked driveway, with the unhelpful caption, ‘driveway blocked by trees.’ I don’t need the images to understand the problem and I don’t know why, when I am so far away, it is important for me to know about trees falling at home.
When my father sends me texts like this, my frustration softens when I realize that this will be his old age. Mundane images and snippets of life might be thrust at me.
I imagine my father’s mechanical approach to the trees. He will measure them or use rope to hitch them to the car. He will drag those trees back to the little forest in our yard. He will call me, impressed with their weight, and eager to share the facts of how trees are moved, in case I have to move them someday.
It was the same when I was younger. He would explain how to build a trailer and show me the progress he’d made. I would stand outside and listen to the wind and watch his eyes, his excitement at knowing what to do. I would feel the damp in the air, the ground sinking into the shape of my footprints. Sometimes I’d watch the light fade and grow and fade, or the sky darken.
I am not surprised by the land. So, a tree falls.
In third grade at midnight my Mother and I wrote a book report and assembled a puppet. I sewed the eyes on and pinned on a yellow silk shirt. I got a C for sloppy construction.
For the tenth grade science fair, I built a tower that would withstand a certain amount of weight. It sagged and swayed but held up under pressure, beyond all expectation. I was just relieved that the glue had dried.
At some point, the shoddy construction stopped. But so did the late nights of grinding through.
The expectation was that editors at my college newspaper would stay all night in the office, editing prior to deadline. But in two and a half years, I never once stayed. I was in bed by eleven.
Social anxiety was part of it. To show them all that I struggled might have embarrassed me. I allowed myself to be fallible only at the distance set by a computer monitor.
Now, in law school, I ask myself if I should stay up all night. I realize that somehow I lost the habit of driving work through to completion in one sitting, and I ask where it went. Lost to anxiety, lost to a desire for quality control, it lingers as an option.
I could expend myself. I could challenge the limits of waking hours, push through exhaustion to achieve an empty to-do list. Maybe I will build the stamina to face the danger of shoddy construction.
I woke, I ate, I thought, I ran through the park. I stared down the self-assured eyes of statues. I sat on a bench and meditated. I felt the bench through sweat-wick gym clothes, and let life flash through me. The day is still fresh and damp hair from my shower runs down my back. Today is my day off, and energy has been traded for quietness.
I treat myself with slow care, as if I am a child. I alternate tasks to keep my mind engaged. I take naps. I call to myself to disrupt wandering or painful thoughts. I remember the clapping rhythms used by primary school teachers to bring focus, discipline. Early instructions to my mind, they echo up. It hurts.
When I am alone with myself I ruminate. I wrestle past events into a coherent line that then breaks down on analysis. Jags of pain stem from attempts to solve the behavior of others. Faces come up and, tied to them, all of the love and weight of relationships that broke into confusion.
I wash my face. I sit down in a cafe. I focus for an hour or so, and take notes. But no immunity comes and the thoughts keep running, the tide of the past rushes over; it gives weight without grounding.
I know that I am here, in this chair. I know my name, how to spell, and how to shape the letters. I know addresses of childhood homes and the phone numbers of old friends. Through mastery of these practical skills, my mind has gained time to consider the life of my barista, the businessman with his wide stressed eyes, the mother in a sun hat, the seven year old scootering by.
Today, on my day off, I realize my incidental situation, in the backdrop, with partial information.