Summer opens wet and green: foolish as first love.
Each leaf unfurls, fearless of frost. It cannot imagine such a thing as Winter.
I have a certain memory:
I am just a girl — nine, maybe ten.
I am balancing on the long railing that runs around our family’s big raised deck. One foot in front of the other, arms outstretched for balance, I walk a slow circuit, over and over again: amazed at the feeling of fitting my body carefully between two invisible planes, the crossing of which will send me tipping into a fall.
(I like to test my edges).
There are trees in this memory, and there were trees in real life: a high green canopy at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, each ancient oak and cypress shaking so many leaves that the air sounds full of applause.
My father is there, pruning a hedge or cleaning a grill, building something — I can’t remember now. And he is musing.
I am not really listening to him … not actively, anyway. He talks both to himself and to me, teasing out the edges of certain thoughts, small hypotheses that make him curious. We are both this way: people caught in a current of ideas that interest us. So he talks and I walk, shifting my center of gravity to my hips, then to my knees, raising myself onto the balls of my feet. I am testing all the ways that my body can veer from its clean straight line and still remain upright.
I lift an index finger.
I balance on one foot.
I move from one balletic position to another: testing, testing.
And then my father’s voice breaks through my thoughts:
As soon as we’re born, he says, we’re already beginning to die.
There is no fear in his voice when he says this — he is not a fearful man, my father. Just curious. The only thing I can sense in the words … is wonder.
As soon as we’re born, I think, we’re already beginning to die. I test out the thought, and it feels true. And also safe.
A breeze ruffles all the green leaves around us, lifts the hair on my head, the tiny hairs on my arms. I move my body through the green air and I feel the power of my own physicality, without the maturity yet to understand that this is what I am feeling.
This, I think, without the words to describe what I’m thinking. This — all of this — is what dying feels like.
And also living.
This is the very first moment when the edges begin to dissolve for me: when the membranes begin to seem comfortably porous.
On the narrow railing, I walk faster, more fluid. All the air around me parts to let me pass.
A week ago, I am driving down a country road that hugs tight to the curves of the river.
The road runs long through a tunnel of trees, and I am driving behind a tractor trailer, its top so high that it lops off all the low-hanging limbs as it goes, sending a shower of leaves all around me.
We drive, and drive, and the bits of leaves skitter over my hood, slap my windshield. I think, then, that if I could take this picture in black and white, it would look like Winter: my headlights cutting a swath not through leaves but through snow, the white flakes floating and spinning in the beams.
I take a breath, and consider, how narrow the divide between one thing and the next: Winter and Summer. Brokenness and Beauty.
And maybe there’s no divide at all.
My foot eases the gas pedal closer to the floor and I feel the car surge forward toward the bumper of the tractor trailer, see the torn leaves fall thicker and faster, a blizzard of green just cut clean from the stem.
I am thirty-three now. Old enough to feel the way my days are numbered. Still — if I take a breath, I can feel my lungs expand to eat the air, my heart pushing the oxygen through me so that it pulses in my fingertips against the steering wheel.
I am a broken thing, and I am breathlessly, astoundingly alive…