white birch tree

white birch tree, thread moss

Beautiful K. is dumped unceremoniously by email – email! – and I call him terrible names before she calms me. “He’s just confused,” she says, but I mutter a few more choice terms under my breath. Her divorce proceedings limp along, the negotiations casting no one in his (or her) best light. “He’s dating,” she says of the dumper. I am not sure exactly why I am so angry with him, or why this hits me so hard – harder even, it appears, than it does her. What, I wonder – in all this searching – does he expect to find?

Yesterday morning, I drive downtown after several days of being away. A milky fog has settled in on the city. By afternoon, it gives way to a glorious day – warm, bright, uncommon. The kind of day that will break your heart, said a man who, it could be argued, once broke mine.

I spend most of it – this uncommon day – indoors, at my desk, but the promise of it – its sweetness, its warmth – fills me up. At the end of it, I walk to my car and the sun is still high, a spring perfume in the air, seductive.

Years ago, when Z. was small, we took a trip to the southern coast of Maine in winter – a remote point that at night, was pitch dark – lit only by distant stars in a cloudless sky. In the morning, we walked through a wooded park, the trees bare, the ground hard and cold. I remember the white birch trees, their trunks and branches luminous. I remember marveling at the long, green filaments on all the branches, as if in the night while we slept, great skeins of pale green thread had been unspooled and wound around them.

“A type of moss,” M. offered, and I agreed, of course, the only logical explanation. I have since made half-hearted, unsuccessful attempts to learn what kind of moss this might have been. But if I think about it, I realize I don’t really want to know. I prefer to wonder if perhaps I only saw this in a dream.

My son wakes this morning hot with fever. The long flights, the irregular sleep, seem finally to have caught up with him. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes glassy. I set him up on the couch, under blankets and I sit at my desk a few yards away, try to read, attend to the busy things.

When I am anxious, I dream about water. This has been true for as long as I can remember. As a child, I dreamed of swimming through underwater graveyards, the headstones in rows on the ocean floor. Silently, I would glide above them, close enough to see moss slick on the stone, but too far away to read the names that I knew were etched there.

Last night, an underwater city bloomed in my sleep. Buildings and roadways, bridges and cranes rose up from the ocean floor. I could see my reflection in their glassy surfaces as I drifted past. For hours, it seemed, I moved between the steel and concrete structures – my body weightless in the undulating sea.

I worry about K. For so long, she has waited for this. How cruel and unpredictable the heart can be. How it can surprise us.

When I fell in love for the first time – now decades ago – and then later, when my fragile, stupid heart was first crushed by indifference, I believed – as we are inclined to do, I think, in our late adolescence – that I would never love in quite that way again, never feel that rush of passion, the giddy weightlessness, the fever. I have, of course, loved since then, been loved with a fervor that matched my own; been indifferent, had indifference returned.

Over the years, as we move in and out of love, don’t we carry our hearts open wide until finally, it is hoped, we can find a place to let them rest? And don’t our weary hearts bear the traces of every love – no matter how fleeting, how misguided, how doomed?

I think of this man, I think of K. and of their tired, etched hearts. How much I wish them rest.