Source: How to Make a Cake out of Cupcakes: or How to Turn Your Essays into a Book

I repeat to myself often, ‘my expectations are mine, no one else’s.’

I moved across the country to the town I grew up in, to live close to my mom. Being 3000 miles away, made my heart ache. I saw on visits and heard on the phone, the boundaries of her life growing smaller and pictured her going through her days, increasingly solitary, since my dad died 2 years ago.

On one visit I was talking with a neighbor and told her I worry about her being lonely, and she said to me, ‘don’t you get lonely sometimes too?’ It was an insightful question, but my brain and heart said, it’s ok for me, I didn’t have a life partner for 60 years. Mom, like many of her generation, never lived alone.

And she’s not one of those moms who guilts you into coming over, visiting, talking to her daily. She speaks often in an overly positive voice, everything’s fine, she’s very busy. And she does like her routine which I understand and wince at, because I don’t want to be that bound when I’m older, but of course, fear I will. She doesn’t like to do anything out of her routine or what she has thought of. She says no, a lot. She can be cool, she can be short in her declines, she is what she was, she is who she is, but more so.

When adult children’s broader perspectives meet our elderly parents’ often narrowing views, can we hear each other as people, or only child-parent and parent-child? 

Did we even know each other before, as child and parent?  Do we know each other now? And what happened in the middle of all that. Where were we? Well, I know, we were in Life. As we still are.

I suspect some of us adult kids want so much more from our older parents than they want or can give. I’d love to review some of the mysteries and know what she felt as a woman and mother. There are glimmers of connection but more often there just aren’t. I suspect there could be more if I cultivated more patience.

She is content.  She does what she seemingly wants. I’m here. It’s usually enough.

I’ve read about how people age. I know she is doing really well compared to others. It’s ok if she doesn’t want to go out as often as some other older women we know, it’s ok if she only wants to socialize with a certain few of her friends. It’s not ok with me that she doesn’t seem to care one way or another if I’m here or not.

It sometimes hurts that she doesn’t want to stop by my place every now and then. But driving anywhere frivolously isn’t in the cards anymore. She likes being in her home or at the various regular places she goes. Plus there’s that left hand turn out of my street, unless she goes right and home down the road she doesn’t like. I adjust my expectations.

My emotions get mixed up when she doesn’t seem to care if I stop by her house or arrange a visit or not. Once I’m there, she’s generally very sweet, but it seems she wouldn’t mind if I ever came by.

I also know that I don’t know what she feels, really.  There are moments of sharing emotions, but they can be few and far in between. If I had to guess, I’d say mom usually lives in a state of contentment and slight anxiety.

Of course when my brother comes by and visits, it’s pretty much a holiday and her happiness can be felt and seen for miles. In her eyes, he is the man of the family now (is her generation the last that uses that phrase seriously?) and she likes that. The fact that my two sisters and I are strong, independent, and smart women, is just, well, nice. Brother is elevated. We’re not jealous, but it’s frustrating. I came back here to spend this time with my mom so I wouldn’t have regrets later. My expectations. Not my mom’s.

Part potting shed, part garden, part home, terra cotta pots of soil, containing seeds that never opened and seedlings toppled and drying, are scattered around the floor.  Sitting high on shelves in the kitchen, smaller pots in various sizes and colors are stacked, still filled with dirt.

Summer squash is growing, satisfied for now with the warm sunny window, staked with chopsticks and cotton string.  Sharing the dining table are containers of  black-eyed susan seedlings,  feeble and fragile, yet living, and what at last count is my 5th attempt at sunflowers to get past two inches tall before collapsing to their death. Some sort of soil rot, I read. This round is getting spritzed & watered with chamomile tea, to relax the rot and put it to sleep I guess. Too soon to tell if this will be the push they need.

I gave away almost all of last year’s pepper plants, my gardening space is vastly reduced, I  now have a narrow stretch on the landing that gets a significant lesser amount of sun.

I lost my garden space. I surrounded to the greater more persistent forces.

I had it to myself for a couple of years. There was no interest from anyone to place plants in the south facing balcony, one floor down from my apartment. In almost ten years, I had seen nothing on it besides an empty pot or two. I used to imagine setting up two camp chairs so I could hang out with a book or a friend. It’s about all that would fit in there. However, I chose to plant.

I swung over the wide sill and experimented until I had flourishing bougainvillaea,Thai peppers, basil, lavender and random flowers. My avocado grown from the pit, thrived. I spent hours each week, tending, repotting and often harvesting.

I suspect some of the tenants thought I was a bit mad and over doing it. But once you get some planting success, it’s hard to stop. And why? Urban gardeners are the new purse dogs. Besides, I loved it. I had researched gardens in small spaces, fire escape gardens (I tried that first and was asked to remove it after one tenant expressed fear for his life in case of fire.)

I mentioned to everyone I saw to help themselves. I put dishes of hot peppers and basil in the entrance inside the gate. I lugged my three gallon watering pot down the stairs and over the ledge, sometimes four times a shot, when all the plants were in peak form.

Last year, new tenants expressed interest in putting some flowers there. I felt guilty because I had filled every inch, with the addition of yellow bell peppers. Because his window overlooked the balcony, he said he wanted to look at something pretty.

At that point, the balcony was filled with all shades of green, red hot peppers, fuchsia bougainvillaea and small but firm yellow peppers. I felt defensive, standing in the midst of it all, dirt smudged, watering and pruning. Was this not beautiful? Did the other tenants not like it?

He wanted flowers and he had that right.  I said firmly and what I hope was kindly, ‘I already have all this stuff in here.”

They squeezed 2 tiny pots of yellow flowers in and then gave up. I moved them where they could see them and watered them often but I sensed they were pissed off.  I knew I would have to pare down next spring. To all things a season.

January brought a new tenant and my gardening refuge, hobby and passion grew into a power struggle over space and control. And pots. Apparently she is an Organizer.  She saw Great Things for our Community and put lots of notes on the board in the lobby expressing her vision of  us  helping each other through life’s ups and downs, sharing and lending things when needed and becoming a Real Community. Apparently, to her keen eye, we were not living up to our potential, although true and fast friends lived there and neighbors had proved themselves over and over. I wondered what others thought of this.

She invited people for coffee and potluck  to further discuss the Community via a note on the board in our entry way.

I had run into her in the laundry room. She folded her clothes straight from the dryer while I waited to shift my clothes from the washer into same dryer. We spoke pleasantly enough. She asked if I lived above her and I said no, I’m on the street side. She said something about the garden on the balcony, “I heard it’s Cynthia’s.”

“I’m Cynthia,” said I.

“You really like peppers,” she said. As in, is that the only species of plant you can grow? Have you not the Gardener’s Soul and Courage? Are you simply an Amateur?

I was caught me off guard. Nothing positive about what I had done, no questions, no compliments, just the implication that I was a pepper loving mutant. I smiled and said, “I really do.”

+++++++++++++

I don’t know who, if anyone, went to her Saturday afternoon potluck. I had considered it was possible that others thought she was incredible and her presence long overdue, exactly what our building needed, someone to make us into a Community. I personally thought Saturday at 5 was an awkward time. Young people sleeping so they can go clubbing at 11pm, parents feeding or bathing their toddlers. Me, recovering from the Saturday cyclone of cleaning, laundry and some sort of self betterment like yoga or conditioning my hair for my Saturday night which usually began at 7.

I personally thought she was daft with too much time on her hands. I was very soon to learn that she was quite insidious indeed and was positioning herself into the balcony and attempting complete possession  of my many large pots that had held bushy happy growing plants.  She was planning nothing less  than a coup d’etat.

A few mornings later, on my way to work, I read an invitation on the board, decorated with Windows Image Art flowers and gardens, to plan the Community Garden on the balcony.  Hello Gardeners! Everyone was invited to come for coffee on Sunday morning to discuss. Everyone would suggest what they wanted, all  would be welcome to everything that was grown. She he was an experienced gardener (had dirt under her fingernails, haha) and would love to share her knowledge.

I  felt stinging on my cheek. Had she just slapped me or was I being overly sensitive? I, the sole gardener of the balcony had no knowledge of gardening? (I actually don’t. I buy seeds, put them in pots and when they sprout, moved them to various positions on the balcony. It was a gamble, fun, absorbing, gratifiying. I did well. Knowledge of gardening, no, experience, yes.

The next note a week or a few days later, updated the Community on how well progress was going on the Community Garden. It would have daffidils, basil (broad leaf), ETC More suggestions were welcome! If anyone had any extra pots to donate, please leave them at her door. If the owner of the pot wanted them back, please put your name on the pot. If anyone had any extra seeds, please give them to her! If anyone had any extra soil, please donate.

Had she come upstairs and seen my bags of potting soil outside my back door? Did she

knock on door, dead plants Sunday morning–

I don’t know who went for coffee. The tenant who wanted to put out flowers told me  he couldn’t make it and would leave a note on her door. I saw him when I was in the balcony, lifting and handing my potted plants to my boyfriend who would take most of them to his home to put in the backyard. I kept a few to put on the narrow landing above. The tenant seemed genuinely surprised and asked if I was taking everything out.

As it was the end of January, my garden was in it’s winter slumber. I began feeling pressured to remove at least half my pots and plants. But it was winter. How soon did the Community need me out of there?

Notes appeared listing what would be in the Community Garden and the Rules and Procedures that would be followed.

is it shuddering pleasure
or bitter resignation
you feel
as you
mold yourself back
into the contours you shaped?

 

love left out overnight turns hard,
or a bruise colored bacteria host.

feed the hungry birds in the park
or journey far from love parasites.

amputate love’s sour infected wounds
from your heart with joy.
there is always more bread.

romantic love of knights and queens
never hardens or spoils beneath its glamour,
as long as the heart is kneaded
with gorgeous words
and there is will and passion to yearn.

yet if it ends and blows away like soft ash,
a fading whisper,
it wasn’t really there.
there is still more bread.

 

If I told you
that while I slept or
more accurately, lie in my tent
on sleeping bag,
pad and tent floor trinity
on the desert ground,
my body dusted by desert kisses
and calcined ashes,
once the bottom of a vast wet lake in which life flourished
and flourished life;

and that time evaporated
or elongated
ancient and present merged
dimensions expanded
and beings entered
my tent, my blood and soul

what would you say?

In my billowing shelter
the wind blew the tent wall behind me
it bowed and crested like stormy sea waves
and contorted the shadows of beings
alive and walking outside
and others that were suddenly with me;
I saw them swarming
in a dream, on the back of my eyelids
although I swear my eyes were wide open
because I couldn’t sleep

which was it?

The macabre and their shadows inside
overlapped in menacing relief,
dancing and wrestling grotesquely and beautifully with shadows
from outside;
yes
I was visited
although visit may be too gentle a word;

their strange presence radiated darkness
darker than night
I named them my demons
and the long raucous battle began.

I fought them one by one
and all together
twisted and tangled with them
returned their shouts, grabbed their limbs and throats
as they grabbed mine

do you think I was dreaming?

They roared at me incessantly, wordlessly
deafening me
but no one came
their wrath was for my ears alone;
and as they wrenched my arms and legs
and threw and spun my body
I felt contact and fear but no pain
I heard thuds and knew I had to escape or win.

As they waved their arms and bellowed hotly at me
I caught my breath and
in terror
I realized
they wanted not to kill me but
desperately needed something from me
what, I didn’t know
all there was
was me

it could only be me
they wanted
to nurture and feed them
as I had been

I rose then thudded
clawed and shouted
I wondered while I fought to keep them from rushing in
if maybe it was best they return home,
to me
they were my demons after all
they needed me.

My world spun
my tent left the ground
and turned upside down
as I was pitched, as I shouted
I asked myself
didn’t I send them up in flames just hours ago?

How did they survive?

I had watched them explode then disintegrate into the black sky
heard the blaze devour them
watched and felt the dark ash mix
with desert dust
and fall like forgiven snow;

Yet here
they begged me
prodded and
caressed me
until I ached
and grew weary of
their belligerent
pleas
and torturous gropes

I tried to recall what I had written on the dusty tears-wet paper
that burned magnificently with thousands of other
prayers, memorials and demons

what words?

Names of those I loved
words
love
open
receive
give
love
love
gratitude
whatever half-formed thought that that fell from my mind
and slipped off my pen
with my intention
to let go
of everything that imprisoned me

and find my crystalline path
where hearts collide
in joy
warmly
tending and nurturing love
from a stone
from a seed
across a table
in a gaze
a dream
a letter
a kiss
through time
and space
less every other thing;
hearts
that recognized and welcomed me.

But instead of leaving
my jailors came back for the final duel.

So I let go
and stopped fighting
to think my way out of this fatal combat zone
of my most recent and long lived past
I willed myself to focus my mind on a thought
an ideal, concept of heart
that comforted me,
a magical word.

I don’t know if the demons watched me
or rested
or still grappled with me
trying to get back in
because I was gone;

I thought of flying
and flying carpets
and I flew away
with grace and ease
and left the last of them
all ready dematerializing
yet calling out
are you sure?
are you absolutely sure?

Yes, I soared
I’m sure
absolutely

I flew
exhilarated, terrified
and as the sky lightened, I came back
into myself
stunned
exhausted into peace
vague memories of the battle flashed before my eyes;

back in myself
silence came
my limbs loosened blissfully
sleep melted me into the earth
fusing
my body and soul together again

the demons of the night
no longer mine
were gone
as pink dawn erased the shadows
and most of the memory

What would you say?

A tall and powerfully built farmer from a nearby village drove into the parking lot for the farmers market; hours after the other farmers had set up their stands and sold most of their goods. It was a sunny cool day and hundreds of people had come.

In the huge flatbed of his truck, instead of cartons of greens, tomatoes, peppers, carrots and onions, were large crates of creatures.

Three younger men quickly got out of the truck, one jumped into the back and two stood at the end, as the farmer and the young man in the truck gently but swiftly pushed the crates down the ramp to the workers waiting to unlock them and lead the animals into an enormous pen. The farmer had long dark straight hair that fell in his eyes and instead of hands he had hoofs. I was attracted to him.

We gathered around the pen the men had constructed and were encouraged to go inside and pet and pick up any animal we wanted. There were all kinds of cats, large and small, spotted and striped of every color, iguanas and fantastical creatures like a small elephant seal, covered in fur that slithered like a snake.

The farmer spoke mesmerizingly of the natural and supernatural world where the animals lived. I had something to give him to read, a story I had written. He read it and praised it, his dark eyes imprinting on me. We knew each other, but I don’t know from when.

When it was time for him to leave, he and his workers gathered up the animals although they couldn’t catch them all. No one seemed to mind, they said they would return to the wild.

As he drove off I felt a cold air stream through a hole in my heart. I thought of the words I had recently read:  If I reveal myself to you, will you reject me?

I always hid. But I had given him my story and he liked it.  I thought, if I reveal myself to others, I reveal myself to me as well. How else can I know myself?  Until we know we’re repressing or unconscious of our hiding or even our presenting ourselves, we don’t know.

Some moments we catch, some return to the wild. We are here and we are wild.

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