I turn off the Pacific Highway onto the seventeen kilometres of road that runs through forest and coastal heath, and takes me to my home between the mouth of the wide river and the ocean. When the moon is full I drive down this leafy tunnel as if the mystical sphere is my destination, suspended in the night sky, reminding me of big things, another level of life for whose existence I have no proof other than poetry and the imagination.
Have men really walked this moon’s cratered surface? I wish that they had not.
In the dark humid hours of the last two mornings our family’s three-year-old has appeared at my side at four and hoarsely whispered can I get into your bed Giddy, and I’ve scooped him up in my arms and discovered him to be naked, having shed his clothes on his way from his bed to mine for reasons I’ll never know. I won’t pee in your bed Giddy, he promises, and takes the silk folds of my nightgown between his thumb and forefinger like a talisman he’s rubbing for good luck, and drifts back to sleep.
These are the things that comfort me. The moon at the end of my leafy tunnel. The child who loves me. The sounds of the sea on a still night. An infant in my arms. The words of a poem sent new to me each day.
I clutch all my poems to my chest and count them again and again. I am kneeling like a small dog…There was so much I couldn’t contain.†
Today I took my book of dreams to the man I talk to, not because I thought I would forget the one I wanted to tell him, but because I feared I might at the last-minute lose courage and stay silent and then castigate myself all the way home for not having faced what I knew needed facing. I sat in his room, my dream book on my lap, then I put on my glasses and opened it and read.
I am taking my life. I’ve used a drug and I’m sitting on my bed looking out of the window and a light snow is falling and I am waiting to die. Then I am walking down the hill on the beachfront where my husband had an apartment when we first met. I turn to look back at his window. It is empty of him. Empty of everything. I whisper his name. I wake up, feeling sick and filled with apprehension. I don’t want to see the man I talk to. I am afraid of what I will feel. I do not want to feel. I am exhausted with feeling.
When it was his, the window had a white paper shade with a blue fish painted on it. The apartment was strewn with boxes of books. He had recently moved there to live alone. We made love amidst the turmoil of the beginning of a new way of life, and the first time so overwhelmed me I cried. He said, I don’t usually make women cry, and that made me laugh. Sitting in the disorder of his bed, wrapped in sheets, we ate pasta with olive oil and garlic from large white bowls, and drank wine. I had no inkling that I would marry him.
Are you angry that he died?
I think about this.
No. His suffering was intolerable. I wanted him to die.
Are you angry that he had the stroke?
I think again.
I wish he hadn’t, I finally say.
I don’t want drugs that dull my senses. I don’t want my grief masked. Why shouldn’t I grieve him as long and as hard as I need to, as he deserves, and who else can do this for him now but me? The man I talk to reminds me that last week I refused drugs normally offered to people in the state I’m in. Is that your dream, he wonders? You took the drugs to kill not you, but your grief? They didn’t work. You wouldn’t let them. Instead you went back to the place where you began your life with him. You faced your grief.
Now he’s gone, no one knows how afraid I am of the world.
I don’t trust people, I tell the man. Not deeply. Nobody knows how I feel. Why would I tell them? How would I explain? Why would they care?
Did you trust your husband? Did he know you?
Yes. Now there is nobody who knows me. I don’t know if this matters. Does it matter? He told me once, I love you but sometimes I don’t like you very much and I said, well that’s mutual, and we laughed and kissed each other.
This was our wedding vow: Throughout all eternity I will forgive you and you will forgive me…††
I had never before heard anything so complete, I told the man. Yes, he said, and nodded his head as he pondered the words.
I thought, I said, weeping, that I would be much better at losing him than I am. But I’m adrift. I don’t see anyway out of this.
When I emerge from his room the air is thickly damp. I put on dark glasses so no one can see I’ve been crying. The traffic is heavy and I must thread my way through it to reach the car. I think, as I dodge a delivery truck, how easy it would be to walk right into it, fall under its wheels but even as I’m thinking this I’m taking care to avoid mortal collisions. That is no legacy to leave the babies.
You’re a nice girl, Giddy, the three-year-old told me before he went home. He arranged the cushions and pillows on my bed to give him safe landing, then he collapsed himself full length and sideways into them, over and over again. As I watched I felt love trembling, the love that means you risk your very life if you lose it, the love that makes you helpless, the love that says I will forgive you for all eternity, please forgive me too.
My husband said, I want to die before you and I almost certainly will because I’m so much older. So I will never have to live in the world without you.
This is my gift to you. That I live in the world without you.
Each time I turn off the Pacific Highway into the leafy tunnel that brings me home, I feel the sweet relief of escape from danger into safety. Since I was a small child I’ve felt the natural world as well as seen it, tenderly, through my skin, as if I have life in common with the forest, with lichen-covered boulders, with tufts of grass surviving on the dunes, with a pool in the marshlands where the animals drink. This is why eventually I could no longer live in cities. I craved the mangroves, wild flowers, mountains and their snowmelt streams, treeless yellow plains under wide skies streaked with high white cloud. I know this natural world is a law unto itself and cares nothing for me or any other human, and that the sea will as soon drown me as offer its healing properties on calm days. I know my place in this world. I know nothing will be given but that I may take what I need and in return, refrain from inflicting every kind of damage.
I settle the three-year-old on my left hip and take him outside into the night. The moon is full. Look, I tell him. Look at that moon. He gazes, silently, while his small fingers play in my hair. I lub you to the moon and back, he says after a bit, quoting from the book I bought for him when he was born. I can smell the sea. I can hear the geckos. I can feel the soft breath of night on my skin. I don’t know how I am doing this, loving this child, showing him the moon, lugging him about on my left hip, all the while grief a dissonant counterpoint demanding my attention.
I wish that you would read to me again as you did so many years of nights and I would fall with delicious abandon into sleep to the rhythms of your voice.
I wish that you would stand with me on the station platform your arm around my shoulder my black and white dress, murmuring your recollections of our early morning.
I wish that you would sit again at our kitchen table and watch me as I make us tea and tell me as you did so often, even making tea you move like a dancer do you know that?
I wish upon the star that fell that men had never walked upon the cratered surface of my beloved moon.
And I wish you would come back to me, singing.
†The Forms of Resistance. Emily Berry
††Broken Love. William Blake