I’m home again for a while, a 34-year-old kid. Weaving myself into the routines of my family, riding their waves, trying to hold onto my individuality without taking up too much space. Without feeling like I need to become them to fit with them, but without rebelling too hard against the reality they’ve created that does not match me perfectly. I am a refugee in the paradise they work hard to maintain. I am grateful. I fit comfortably enough to heal, to rest, but just a little too tight to stay and expand in the ways I know I have to.
Tonight I made dinner, because there was a space. I fill empty spaces. That is my role. I do not (cannot) compete for space. If I am suddenly crowded I will slink away. To watch, and wait, for another space to open, for a need to arise. Here there is not often a need. My mom, her partner, they have things pretty much on lockdown. The garden, the chickens, the harvesting, the cooking. They appreciate my help, they welcome me in all of it…but they do not need me.
And wise that they don’t. It’s never sure how long I will stay.
But tonight there was a space. Mom reading in bed, down with a cold, a stuffy nose and pinched forehead. Her partner outside canning the grape juice of the season, to store out in the shop, to have some bright fruit flavor in the dreary middle of winter.
So I made the fire. I would make the fire every night. That can be my role here. Chop the kindling, crush the paper, build a little house, strike the match, shut the door just enough that a stream of air flares the flame. And I’m calmed, heat that I need, and some other primal peace that flames bring…safety perhaps.
Then I set to work on dinner. I relish alone time in the kitchen. To think, imagine, to dance around grabbing ingredients and pans and knives, without worrying I will spin and stick someone. Without annoyance. Without worrying that my silent focus, my curt replies, will be unkind when others just want to connect.
Seasonal squash kale soup, with curry spice and ginger for the sick among us, to clear her nose and light a fire in her body, burn out the gunk. Pureed with the immersion blender, topped with roasted, salted sunflowers seed and chopped walnuts. Goes well with the flicker of a fire.
Soup spoons, full moon, the table is littered with seasonal projects. Wild harvested mushrooms drying in trays.The last Dahlias wilting in their centerpiece. They are talking about the property. About the cherry tree growing next to the shop.
“We can always take it out, you know,” he says, tenderly. Trees are precious here.
She considers. It was just small when it started, they say. That Michelle didn’t want to take it out. They smile towards me, catch me in my 34-year-old teenager introspection. I consider the small tree that is growing, leaning on the shop like lazy teenager, dropping fruit and pits all over the flower garden. Of course I would have argued to keep a cherry tree, but I honestly don’t even remember that conversation, that visit. Because of me there is a cherry tree becoming a nuisance?
How many other decisions have I influenced on my selfish sweeps through home? The sliding glass door I put in the apartment, the outdoor hot tub. Mostly positive, I think. But where else?
I scan through my twenties. All those places I lived less than a year, full of honeymoon inspiration, annoyed by the hesitance of locals, pushing them to make a change. Because I, with fresh eyes, an outside perspective, could clearly see better.
How many gardens did I leave untended, how many building projects finished but unused. Just to leave a mark. Just because I was young and full of zeal, aching to create, to experience and learn. And usually pretty good at convincing.
I know I’ve done my best, trying to leave places better than I arrived. Leaving a trace, perhaps, but not a mess. But it’s hard to be sure, entering a system that’s evolved over time, how your one act of good intention might upset the balance built over a timespan a hundred times longer than your existence. Like when I “organized” the tools only to meet frustration…because the tools were already exactly where that man had wanted them to be.
These people build their worlds, slowly, with patience (that virtue I’ve yet to attain). Then they open their homes to me, they welcome my fresh energy, and fresh eyes. But I must remember. Be humble. Be grateful. Without them there would be no place for this bird to land. And I must respect their balance and let them direct the show. I must be a support, not a director. Because I never know when a seed I plant will become a troublesome cherry tree after I’m gone.