20 lines: bareroot

Woke to a flash of lightning and was rewarded by thunder and a brief, turbulent storm. Is it cliché to love the rain this much?

High-anxiety days. Doubt creeping in where there had not before been doubt. Transitions can do this – leave us vulnerable, I know.

This spring I bought perennials online. Ten astilbe plants shipped bareroot. When they arrived, I was struck by their tenderness – the pale white roots barely formed. I handled them gingerly. Soaked them, piled a small mound in the center of the new holes I had dug and spread the roots gently across the mound. The image of that tender flesh has stayed with me. How easily they might have yielded to the tip of a blade. Or been crushed underfoot.

I suppose I began this phase of my so-called career nearly two decades ago. An entry-level editing position in the medical school, which led to other roles in the university. I moved easily between departments and roles. I worked with many groups of people – engaging just deeply enough to appear connected, while maintaining a certain distance. I would tell myself, “I am not here to make friends.”

I did of course, make a few. And we stay in touch via facebook or I run into them on occasion at one event or another.

My aunt was part of a group of five women who worked at the same law office in New York in the late 1970s. They were temporary workers, brought in for a particular case that ended up spanning years. When the case ended, so did their work, but they remained in contact. Twice a year, they would meet at a nondescript restaurant in mid-town for a lunch that took the whole afternoon. I never thought much of these gatherings, except when on occasion over the years my aunt would mention that she had to drive to Queens for the christening of someone’s granddaughter, or to Brooklyn for a funeral.

I did not understand that sense of obligation – those long treks from Westchester deep into the boroughs, or later, to Connecticut when one of the women moved there. Whole days swallowed up by one catered affair or another, one family after another noisy extended family.

M. grew up in a small college town where everyone seemed to know everyone, neighbors gossiped over fences, and when something happened in one family, the whole town would know almost instantly. We would walk down to the main street when we visited and he would point out the homes of his childhood friends. While I was charmed by this in an abstract way, I also found it unsettling for reasons I could not adequately articulate.

There is something about the low, slow deepening of relationships over time that I resist. A certain shame I feel about the long arc of my life being witnessed. That I might be assessed and come up short seems too easy a fear. That is true of course, but what else?