The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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I can remember exactly when I stopped believing in God. I was nine, and had been praying for a playhouse for Christmas. Each night, I prayed, “God, please give me a playhouse, one with a window and a door and a flower box and street numbers on the outside.” That Christmas, I got a playhouse. I figured no god worth his salt would grant such a mundane wish.
It’s Tuesday, October 17, 1995, about nine-thirty in the morning, and I’m sitting on my living-room couch. My cats are stretched out on the floor in puddles of sunlight. My husband, Steve, is at work in the city. I am thirty-eight.
We moved to this house on an acre lot eight months ago, in hopes of starting an herb nursery. Our land is bordered by a creek, an orchard, and a highway. I telecommute, and after I’m done with my regular job each day, I work outside, getting the land ready for our business.
Lately, I haven’t been able to work much. The mysterious cough and fever I got three months ago are still with me. But since I never get sick — I’ve never even had the flu — I figure it’s just a fluke. I can’t believe I’ve got a “bug”: it’s like having a moral weakness.
When I watch my breathing in the mirror, I can’t see my sunken chest move. I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed. Maybe I just need a rest, and the only way I’ll let myself rest is if I get sick. But recently I’ve been having trouble walking across the living room. I sometimes feel as though I’m going to faint. I can no longer speak without coughing, and I’ve lost about twenty pounds. Worst of all, I’ve been forced to deal with my most hated and feared enemy: the medical profession.
There is a huge difference between simply testing positive for HIV and having full-blown AIDS out of the blue. This is like falling headfirst into my grave. I keep thinking, I’ve never even been sick! as if that should be some kind of protection in itself.
There is a huge difference between simply testing positive for HIV and having full-blown AIDS out of the blue. This is like falling headfirst into my grave. I keep thinking, I’ve never even been sick! as if that should be some kind of protection in itself.
That summer we’d worked like dogs, clearing land, building raised planting beds, cutting trees, weeding, weeding, weeding. We worked day and night, rolling boulders up from the creek to make borders and berms. When relatives came to visit, we put them to work, too. We shoveled tons of soil, planted hundreds of herbs, hooked up a well, chopped wood, turned compost piles, and learned how to use chain saws and chipper-shredders.
In the spring, the creek had flooded, and in the summer there were two head-on collisions in front of our house. Though I never wanted to admit it, I’d felt a pall from the moment we moved in.
The phone rings, I answer it, and the world collapses. I’m staring into space, hearing over and over again the receptionist’s words: “The doctor wants you to come in this afternoon to discuss some lab results. . . . And bring someone with you.” From her summons, I already know the results. I feel as if I’m standing on a precipice over an endless void. For the next six hours, until my appointment, I shuffle from one room to the other, coughing, staring at the wall or the TV or the floor, thinking, I have AIDS. I have AIDS. I have AIDS.
Steve and I had always thought we were safe. We’d never gotten tested, even though we’d seen the public-service announcements on TV, red ribbons on lapels, people we knew getting sick. “That’s one thing we’ll never have to worry about,” we said to each other — for thirteen years. But now a quick glance back in time led me to the man before Steve, an ex-con who later died of lymphoma. So that’s how I got it. Not a particularly useful bit of information, but interesting, I guess.
When my first blood tests came back, the doctor said there were two that showed “some autoimmune activity.” “What does that mean?” I asked, though I knew what he was getting at. “The cells can no longer determine what is self and what is not self,” he explained.
I drove home in the autumn sun, down beautiful, tree-shaded roads, but everything was wrong. The trees were too green; there was too much light reflecting off the leaves. When I pulled into the driveway, my land, which had so recently held nothing but expectation for me, now looked surreal. The clay pots, bales of wire, piles of logs — all were swollen with hidden meaning.
I was sobbing by then, gasping and coughing as I hunched over the steering wheel. I walked slowly into the kitchen, took a few tablespoons of cough syrup, and lay down on a bed that hadn’t been made in weeks.
The diagnosis feels like a great cosmic fist smashing into my head, a booming, pissed-off voice yelling, “Wake up!” I know in the depths of my being — though, rationally, it is absolutely inconceivable — that this is the perfect disease for me, that it is just right.
For almost my entire life, my self-image could be summed up by a nursery rhyme: “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.”
I was a straight-A student, but began drinking and smoking at age twelve. In college, while my friends worked on the school paper, I played pool in the local bar with men from town. Somehow I clung to life and simultaneously pushed it away. I began alternating vitamins with Quaaludes and bourbon. I was furious, terrified, and lonely — but not, I thought, clinically depressed, because depression was “anger turned inward,” and I had no trouble expressing anger. I graduated with honors, despite taking my finals so hung over I was hallucinating little balls of light.
After college, I continued to drink and started snorting coke, but also took more vitamins, amino acids, and herbs. I had a string of good jobs and was the perfect employee, coming in early, staying late, always keeping one step ahead of the boss’s problems. I got drunk a lot, too.
Eventually, I quit a job in the financial district and took one at a nonprofit organization. It paid half the salary, but I was relieved to be “doing some good in the world.” This job also helped me cling to the idea that I might — just might — be a good person, since I was working for a good cause. Deep down, however, I still felt everything about me was wrong: I was a class-A bitch, utterly miserable, the kind of person who gets into arguments with strangers. I was filled with such self-loathing that at least once a month there would come a time when I would cry out, “I should die!”
So now AIDS: a metaphor for my whole life, and confirmation of the fact that I’m a rotten person. Now I’ll never be well, and I’ll die slowly and horribly. I could kill myself, and nobody would blame me.
Wednesday, the day after the diagnosis, my mother called to see how I was; she knew I’d been very sick. She herself was dying of throat cancer, and it was the last time I would ever hear her speak clearly. I told her I had pneumonia.
I put off telling anyone the truth. I wanted Steve to know first, but I couldn’t tell him on a weeknight, because he wouldn’t be able to sleep and would miss a day of work, and that would only make him feel worse. I also wanted to prepare him. But when I hinted, “What if I have AIDS?” he shrugged it off; it just wasn’t possible.
I planned not to get any treatment. After all, it was what I deserved; it was fate. And I couldn’t imagine a life of being sick — that and constant trips to and from doctors’ offices were more terrifying to me than the idea of dying.
On Thursday, I dragged myself to a vacuum-cleaner-repair shop and bought a hose just long enough: no one would hear the truck running in the garage all day.
On Friday, I typed up a will, a living will, and a durable power of attorney, and mailed this happy correspondence to friends at work, asking them to sign and return the documents to me in time for my next doctor’s appointment. Always thorough.
It’s Friday night. I’ve been praying since Tuesday that Steve is HIV-negative. I don’t know if I really believe in prayer, but I’m desperate. I’ve got to tell him about me. When I hear the car pull up in the driveway, I feel faint. How do you say, “Guess what? I’ve got AIDS”?
Steve comes in and sits down next to me on the couch. I tell him, smiling a little out of nervousness; I feel so stupid. Steve runs his hands through his hair and stands up, goes to the door and looks out. Pacing before me, he says, “I knew it. I knew it was something terrible.” Then his face crumples.
A few minutes after I told Steve, my brother called and said Mom had just been admitted to the critical-care unit. The cancer had grown so large in her throat that she could no longer breathe on her own. They were amazed she’d even been able to call 911. Steve and I were too stunned by our own situation to deal with anything more. Steve told my brother it was time for him to be strong.
Saturday morning, I begin making calls, telling my news to everyone I can reach (including the friends who will soon receive my little package of doom in the mail). Every time I say, “I have AIDS,” I feel like a bad actress who hasn’t rehearsed her lines.
Over the next couple of weeks, I got worse pretty fast. The doctors wanted to do a biopsy to confirm that I had pneumocystis carnii pneumonia, the kind that people with AIDS get. From their description, it sounded as if the biopsy involved snaking a scalpel up my nose, down my throat, and into my lungs. Occasionally, they said, this can accidentally puncture a lung and cause internal bleeding. I couldn’t go through with it.
In the few conversations I had with friends, coughing out the words, I made not-so-subtle allusions to my plans to end my suffering. I had seen my father die slowly of cancer, and now my mother, too, was dying (only faster), and, God damn it, I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life in and out of doctors’ waiting rooms and hospitals, getting sicker and sicker and waiting to die.
I tell Steve I can’t live like this — with AIDS. I tell him he’ll get over me soon enough, and that this will be a great opportunity for him, because he will no longer be saddled with a mortgage and a commute (and a bitchy, rotten wife, I think). I tell him now he can travel, do everything he has always wanted to do. To him, both options — my living with AIDS, and my dying of it — are equally terrifying, equally incomprehensible. Neither of us can think clearly. I write out instructions for him on how to take care of the cats. I’m tired and weak, but not in pain. I think, Pneumonia wouldn’t be such a terrible way to go, if I don’t have enough strength for the hose.
I buy Final Exit and lie in bed watching talk shows. I watch a soap opera in which a villainous man disguised as a woman fakes a young girl’s medical records to show she is HIV-positive. The girl is devastated. Indulging in bitterness, I find it amusing.
To me, there is a huge difference between simply testing positive for HIV and having full-blown AIDS out of the blue. This is like falling headfirst into my grave. I keep thinking, I’ve never even been sick! as if that should be some kind of protection in itself. My mind is reeling. At some time or another, nearly everyone wonders, What if my spouse died? or, What if I got hit by a car? Almost no one thinks, What if I die tomorrow? or, What if my husband is an ax-murderer? Some things are just outside the realm of possibility.
I stay up late every night, lying in bed, watching dozens of talk shows and sitcoms I’ve never seen before; they might as well be broadcast in Russian. Nevertheless, I stare at them, afraid to go to sleep because I know my first thought when I wake up will be I have AIDS.
I call the CDC and AIDS hotlines to ask what my life expectancy would be if I were treated for the pneumonia. They don’t know, of course. I get literature on AIDS that describes in horrific detail each of the dozens of hideous infections you can get, as well as the medieval diagnostic procedures used to determine which infection you have. Then, of course, there are the drugs — powerful enough to make your T-cell count increase, but also prone to cause anemia, muscle wasting, or nerve damage.
Somehow, from the beginning, I knew this was more of a spiritual crisis than a physical one. Since I’d always wished myself dead, it wasn’t death I was afraid of — just what came before it. One day, it occurred to me that I was rapidly approaching the point at which I wouldn’t be able to take a shower by myself anymore. Already I could barely lift my arms. I couldn’t make Steve watch me die like that, I thought. I also couldn’t leave him with twenty-four thousand dollars in credit-card debt, a huge mortgage, and no dreams. So it was “Death, here I come!” one day, and “Maybe I’ll hang on a little longer” the next.
It’s a week later, and Steve and I are at the doctor’s office, where we learn that Steve is HIV-negative. I thank God (or whoever) and hand the doctor my living will and durable power of attorney. I will not have a biopsy, I say, but I will take the drugs. If the antipneumonia drug works, that will be confirmation enough for me that I had pneumonia.
A few days later, I went to Kansas to visit my mother in the hospital. I was so weak I could barely stand up, and the antibiotics for the pneumonia made me queasy. She thought I was squeamish about seeing her. My brothers and I cut and filed her fingernails, brushed her hair, and tried to think of things to say. In shaky handwriting, she suggested that we all go hang out together and drink a few beers.
Mom decided to have a tracheostomy, which would prolong her life for a short period and perhaps give her a chance to speak again by means of an electronic device. She said that having us “kids” there helped her decide.
It was tough to see her spirit wither after the operation. She was in greater pain, still unable to talk, and she couldn’t handle the tube they’d inserted into her throat. She was supposed to learn how to clean it out herself, get back some strength and weight, and then be discharged. My brothers and I left, and Mom was soon discharged to a rehab hospital. I returned home with pneumonia — and the flu.
The fact that I tested HIV-positive and have pneumonia is enough to diagnose me with AIDS. I’m in no hurry to find out any more grim details, but of course my doctor is. When he calls with the results of my first T-cell and viral-load tests, he sounds sad and kind of nervous. “Healthy” people have 500 to 1,700 T cells per cubic millimeter of blood. I have fourteen. The amount of the virus in my blood (viral load) is 185,000. I’m not sure what these numbers mean, exactly, but together they add up to a diagnosis of “advanced” AIDS.
I’m choked with fear: this is happening too fast. They’re already throwing dirt over me. I take a couple of codeine pills and immediately throw up. I’m disappointed in myself: I haven’t vomited in decades.
On November 20, my mother decided to give up. She told the doctors to stop all feeding and fluids, and summoned me back to Kansas again, specifically telling “the boys” not to come yet. I didn’t want to go until I had assembled all the antivirals and other drugs I’d be taking. She didn’t know why I wasn’t there immediately. I had been the good kid, the dutiful daughter, the one who always came. Now I agonized over whether to tell my dying mother I had AIDS.
It’s Thanksgiving. Mom has been waiting four days, but I can’t leave here until Monday. I call and tell her the whole truth. I say I’m fine, that I’m taking “all the latest drugs.” She manages to whisper that she’s glad I told her, and that she wishes there were something she could do. “Just being able to tell you,” I say, “is doing a lot for me.” I keep from crying, but my voice is trembling. I think it’s OK that I’ve told her. I also think she has known all along I had more than “just” pneumonia.
My brothers and I began cleaning out Mom’s house while she waited to die. She apologized for “doing this so close to the holidays.” We picked out her cemetery plot and bought a headstone. We wanted to put “Our dearest loving mother” on it, but she quickly dismissed the idea, saying all she wanted was her name and a shamrock, and the cheapest funeral possible.
I’m staying in Mom’s room, sleeping in her bed, thinking about practical things, like what pills I have to take and when, and which rooms to clean first — not about being in the bed of my dying mother; not about the fact that I am quite possibly dying myself; not about afterlives and God.
We got everything in order. Mom said she felt bad that it was “taking so long.” The nuns and priests came to give her the last rites, and a week later she died.
When I came home, I at first avoided the horror of my diagnosis by thinking about the loss of my mother. Then I avoided the pain of her death by thinking about my diagnosis. I also thought a lot about how my parents had died. My mother was certain she would die at sixty-five. My father, on the other hand, had denied he was sick until he could hardly walk. After all, he was a psychiatrist, a doctor, and doctors were supposed to cure people, not get sick themselves. Each of them had carried so much guilt about our family, their divorce, and the “kids.” Each had been too willing, I thought, to let doctors decide their course of treatment, and to let prevailing attitudes about cancer determine their response to it.
Maybe my comparative youth gave me an edge in my own struggle, or maybe I’d learned from their example. Whatever the reason, facing AIDS was completely different for me. Every day I felt changed somehow, as if I were undergoing a protracted metamorphosis. Each day was rich with mystery.
Sometimes there were moments of incredible clarity and beauty, as when a one-legged robin took up residence in our yard. Whenever I felt overwhelmed I’d look out the window and see him looking back at me, perched unsteadily on the birdbath or the fence, flapping his wings to keep his balance.
By February I had enough energy to begin housecleaning. Vacuuming the carpet one day, I thought, Is this what life is all about: vacuuming? And I realized, Yes, this is it. All of life is contained in this instant. There’s no mortgage, no job, no family, no shoulds. Just vacuuming the carpet. And isn’t it the most wonderful gift?
OK, so I’ve been diagnosed with AIDS, and I may get sick again, and I don’t want to die. Now I have to decide if I really want to live, if I can get past my fear of living. Because I’m afraid that if I get better physically, I’ll return to being depressed, miserable, and drunk. Strangely, this is the sanest and freest I’ve ever felt. Do I need AIDS to help me live like a normal person?
I buy subliminal-affirmation tapes and read Bernie Siegel books. I think about hospice instead of the hose, but I don’t want to think about hospice very much. I live with a new undercurrent of fear.
A lifetime of negativity and doubt wasn’t about to go away overnight. Nor was I sure I wanted to lose it; after all, it was the devil I knew. When I was growing up, I had sometimes wished I were dead. I suspect my brothers each felt the same at some point. We were five people living in one house, but each of us was alone in a private hell. Anger and humor were the only forms of expression in my family, even though my father the psychoanalyst was forever asking us in ponderous tones at the dinner table, “How do you feel about that?” I always said I felt nothing, and I believed it.
Today I am writing the word drugs on my shopping list. Hard to believe. During adolescence I tried every drug I could get my hands on, including Thorazine from my dad’s medical bag. For the next fifteen years I was your average cynical, depressed, run-of-the-mill drunk. But until today I have never written “drugs” on my shopping list, right there below “film” and “mascara.”
After my mother’s death, a lot of relatives called, and I told a couple about my diagnosis, but as none of them were close, I kept it rather clinical and brief. My friends continued to be supportive, but there was a chasm between us; I was their “therapist” and had always kept my inner turmoil well hidden from them. Most had no idea how miserable I’d always been, and some had never even suspected how much I drank.
Steve was furious, but unable to express it. So much that was important in his life had crumbled in an instant, and he now clung to order and ritual with heart-wrenching obsessiveness. He rushed around the house cleaning and cooking. He weeded the garden, fixed the drip irrigation. I told him to forget it: the business plan was over. Each of us felt completely alone; we couldn’t comfort each other, couldn’t even stand to be around each other.
We briefly tried an AIDS support group. The other members were good people, very much into hugging, but they seemed to define themselves by their diagnosis. One woman, trying to be helpful, told me it was amazing I was doing so well, because women with AIDS die faster than men.
My sense of time is completely distorted — a week is a year, a day a month. I find Reiki in a directory of alternative healing methods. It’s a Japanese form of “laying on of hands” that aims to channel “universal energy” into the body, treating the patient on spiritual, emotional, and physical levels. I first heard of Reiki three years ago, scoffed, and forgot about it. Now I’m drawn to it, although I’m not sure why — something about dealing with my spirit, or perhaps just acknowledging that I have one.
I can hardly believe this: all my life I’ve disliked people touching me, and now I feel a need to have total strangers putting their hands all over me. I think it will somehow make my body feel more real. Still, it’s tough to go through with it. The first time, I’m so nervous I nearly hyperventilate.
The night of that first treatment I had a wonderful dream: I was sitting at a table with my brothers and several of my mother’s friends. Everyone was dressed in shades of gray. It was some kind of theater function. (My mother had been the grande dame of the local civic theater.) Then Mom walked up, looking healthy, dressed in a brilliant blue suit. She was glowing. We hugged, and it was comforting, completely unlike any embrace we’d shared in life. I said, “Mom, are you back? Are you really back?” And she said, “No, I’m just appearing to you in this form.” And somehow it was OK, not sad.
Part of me still thought I deserved to die, and I knew I had to see a therapist, realizing with a new clarity just how “crazy” my thinking had been all my life. Before, I’d always contained everything. Now I could no longer hide my panic and tears from friends and family; I was showing my “weakest” side, my layers of self-protection slowly peeling off. Yet I hated the thought of therapy, because, even though I’d grown up speaking the language of psychology — and actually majored in it — somehow I still believed that going to a therapist meant I was weak.
I went to a psychologist specializing in hypnosis, ostensibly to learn how to deal with my fear of dying. That one didn’t last very long. I felt he wasn’t paying enough attention when, after five sessions, he called me Cindy.
Then I found a female therapist, but didn’t realize she practiced “inner child” therapy. Before I knew it, she had me crying into pillows and role-playing — first myself, then my mother, then me again. It was confusing: “Who am I supposed to be now — Mom or me?” She hugged me after every session and told me how much she liked me. It was too intimate.
Taking a break from therapy, I bought books on spirituality and subscribed to the Daily Word from the Unity School of Christianity. I looked into Buddhism, but got scared off by the idea of karma, which seemed to confirm my suspicion that I was somehow to blame for my own illness. Meanwhile, Steve tried therapy, and it eased a lot of his anger. I wished I could bring back his joy.
Thanks in part to a regimen of drugs, vitamins, and herbs — more than fifty pills a day — my numerous “self-help” treatments, and the strange sense of liberation I was feeling, my health improved dramatically. Five months after the diagnosis, my viral load had dropped by more than 90 percent. And I immediately became afraid again. Should I cut back on the drugs? Take other drugs? What was the next step? My doctors freely and frequently admitted that very little was known about AIDS. Other people I encountered with AIDS kept repeating to me, “It’s different for everyone.”
I saw I was completely on my own, and I kind of liked that; it gave me some control, the freedom of being in uncharted territory, nobody saying, “You have to get radiation,” or, “You have to have surgery.” But there was one thing I knew: everything about my life had to change if I was going to stay healthy, have a chance at living longer, and — at the very least — experience some peace before I died.
I was ready to try yet another therapist. This time, I got a name from the Yellow Pages, and by chance it turned out to be a good fit. I also learned the first level of Reiki technique and began volunteering at the clinic, treating clients with everything from tarsal-tunnel syndrome to cancer. I became fascinated with energy work and soon began receiving treatment in a form of Japanese acupressure called Jin Shin Jyutsu. A year before, I would have found this as absurd and embarrassing as going to the office in diapers, but now I devoured it. I listened over and over to Caroline Myss tapes on “energy anatomy,” and began to consider what it meant to be “a spirit living in a physical body.” It was comforting — and frightening.
For one thing, there was that concept of karma again. To my Western mind, it boiled down to blaming oneself for all one’s problems — even AIDS. I listened to another series of tapes with the unfortunate title Finding Hope and Inspiration in Death, read more books about spirituality, and began to understand the idea of a world where energy is the source, and matter merely the result. Soon the idea of karma seemed at least logical, if not particularly comforting.
When it was time to get my blood tested again, I was sure the results would be really positive — after all, the last ones had been so good — but my T-cell count had dropped and my viral load had increased tenfold. Apparently, the virus was becoming resistant to the drugs.
I have to get away from my job; I can no longer concentrate on fund-raising and the afterlife at the same time. Perhaps I can take a few months off and go on disability. I mention the idea to a couple of co-workers, but it’s weeks before I get up the nerve to tell my boss. When I do, he’s surprisingly supportive, as are the other employees, some of whom donate sick leave to me. I feel guilty taking it, but there is no other option. It’s simply what I must do in order to survive — a kind of spiritual retreat. I feel as if I’m kicking out from under me the last support in my life. I’ll either hang or fly.
My first month off, I went from Reiki to Jin Shin Jyutsu to therapy, and meditated in between. Every morning, I prayed, “Thank you, God, or whoever, for letting me wake up to another day,” and every night, “Thank you, God, or whoever, for letting me live another day.” I was a novice at praying.
I began to realize I had to quit drinking, not because it was unhealthy — I wasn’t even drinking that much anymore — but simply because it was something that had power over me. I explained my problem to the people who didn’t know, and (slowly) decided to give up my old monster friend.
During that time, I also tried to take each negative emotion I felt and boil it down to its essence. I found that the root of every negative emotion was fear: fear of pain, humiliation, disapproval, loss. I knew fear would kill me faster than anything else, so I decided to “work on it.”
A couple of weeks later, I had my first opportunity: a panic attack over the possibility of cervical cancer. I’d put off getting a Pap test for years. Apparently, my cervix is somewhere up around my neck, and getting to it is definitely not a painless experience. But when my menstrual periods started coming every two weeks and lasting a week, I became terrified. Of course, I went to the bookstore first and read everything I could find on cervical cancer, just to scare myself further: how it’s the ninth leading cause of death in American women; how it’s more common in women with AIDS.
Fortunately, I also found a few tidbits on the symptoms of premenopause, which were similar to mine, and I clung to that possibility. I did visualizations to keep the fear at bay. I cried a little. And finally I prayed. The fear went away. I was getting a little better at praying.
Six weeks later, it was time for another blood test. When the results came back, my doctor was clearly surprised. Going by gut feeling, I had refused to take the latest drug; nevertheless, my viral load had dropped 80 percent. My doctor said he couldn’t explain it. “Positive thinking,” I told him, and he laughed — hopefully, I thought.
On top of that, the Pap test came back negative. And this time, the good news didn’t scare me: I had made some progress.
Today is Thursday, October 17, 1996. Through my office window, I can see that the huge old pine tree across the street has finally given up. Over the past six months, it has turned brown bit by bit. When I got my first blood tests back, there was a spot of brown at the top that I barely noticed. When I quit work, the tree was half dead. Last week, I could see only one green branch at the very bottom. The tree must be eighty-five feet tall. Every day I have watched that strange brownness creeping down its body, branch by branch. It always saddens me, and yet I’m compelled to look, as if it were an accident on the highway. And I get the symbolism: cycles, death, change. I get it.
In half an hour, my friends will be coming up from the city to go to lunch. It’s Peggy’s birthday. It feels like my birthday, too: one year ago, this person didn’t exist. Also in half an hour, the real-estate agents will be here to tour our house, which goes on the market today. Steve and I say we can’t afford it anymore, but really I think we just don’t like to see the scraggly herb beds that will never produce the abundance of fragrant plants we’d dreamed they would.
So the business plan is over, the old life is over — even the house is going. We move on. The sadness is tangible, but so are the joy and the immense curiosity about what happens next. For once, I’m truly alive, and I know there are worse things than being diagnosed with AIDS. I know it doesn’t mean anything that your body is sound when your spirit is in hell.
When we come back from lunch, the tree is gone. Eighty-five feet and God-knows-how-many years — now only huge piles of stumps and branches on the ground. Somehow, it already seems like an eternity since it was standing there. And it is.