I am wondering where all this is heading.
My cold feet in their orange socks extend off the end of the lazyboy: I flex them studiously to wake up the blood.
My herbal tea no longer hot at my side, bedtime tea with valerian and hints of mango,
every night a mystery of oxytocin and melatonin and existential dreads, the phases of the moon, barometric pressure and just the right blue blanket and of course my husband’s warm flank. Throw in downward dog and a shoulder stand; Will this be a night sleep comes quickly, my 4-7-8 breath tipping into dreamland, or will it be the opposite, when on my belly I stuff myself into pillows and grip the cool slim bars of the iron bedstead overhead, minutes becoming hours?
Over Eggs Benedict at a Brighton café, my oldest childhood friend, whom I haven’t seen for decades, tells me she found my father in a photo, and here it is, pulled from a cloth bag: my father in his 30s, before I was born, a mere finger tip amidst a hundred men of the cloth on the steps of a church that haunts me still—a church like a cold-hearted wonder of the world, all tied up with family ghosts. I still mine answers from that ancient architecture, where I once imagined someone knew best.
I suspect my old friend knows the worst: my one-time faith never bloomed beyond fifth grade, belief curling sepia like that photo of my dad. I was a climber back then on the fronts of churches: unyielding limestone steps with leaden balustrades where sober men assembled. But there are no little girls in this photo, not even one to irresistibly twirl her skirt, and not one grown-up woman. This chilly world without women, my father very much there but also almost lost within it.
My old friend thinks I will want to have that photo. I look at it hard, once, twice, I see him there, tiny in the rows of clerics, but yes, I say, I’ll take it. Yes, it’s him, a recognizable set of jaw, that one wave of dark hair startlingly lush for such an upright boy.
I swear I think of him every day, I say. Every day, he is there one way or another, in thought, in memory, a zap of synapse, a single slide, an Instagram. It’s amazing how much he still is with me, I say. My mother, too. Sometimes I think it would be nice to live without it, the constant visitations, sometimes a mayfly, sometimes a little feathered bird, sometimes a shadowed flap of crow, sudden trespass into the frame.
We are trying to see if we can know each other again. “So,” I venture, when the basics have been covered, “…I feel like something is missing,” No question, no plea. My human condition—wondering, delicately, does she feel it, too.
Sweet silence, then a tentative inhale, then with an almost imperceptible exhale a smile invites itself toward me. She takes her time.
I think I have an answer, she says.
It’s Jesus Christ, who died for us. Who died for our sins.
Jesus. Handsome longhair cradling a lamb. Beautiful Jesus in his gold-trimmed robe. Knocking at an arched door in amber light.
Peacefulness in that moment, when I know she is saying this to me because she loves me, and for a moment, all is still.
I want to open my heart to this old friend, who loves Jesus. How full of love is her offer for me, how full is her heart with what her Jesus means.
But that is past for me, I know I must say. I wish it wasn’t true. I appreciate so much that you said what you did. And I am happy, so happy, for you. I love you, I whisper into her hair as we hug at the door.
There is a different friend who occupies my heart, a woman who also has lost belief. She is not in a café, but far away in different weather, another sky. We write little missives, on Facebook, often late at night. How cold is it there? Did you walk on the beach? Did the rains stop yet? What book did you read? Is your body okay? Do you remember that time? Has the hawk been back? How well did you sleep?
One night she writes, “Sometimes I fear being overwhelmed by my own emptiness.”
My heart cramps with recognition, and I type back right away, my fingers curved and urgent on the keyboard as if I am pounding out Braille.
That’s it exactly, beloved friend, I say. I feel it too.
And that is where we are, wondering, wondering where all this is heading.
About the Author: Jan Worth retired after 26 years as a writing teacher and college administrator at the University of Michigan - Flint. She is editor of East Village Magazine, a venerable Flint-based community news publication. Author of the Peace Corps novel Night Blind, she recently co-edited the anthology JFK: The Last Speech. She is worried about the Sixth Extinction and cherishes every bird.