we must make our own war

Our friends come over in the afternoon and we sit out back on the brick patio. The garden is overgrown all around us. The holly tree needs pruning. The climbing rose bush threatens with its long, thorny tendrils. Our boys throw themselves around on the grass.

L. tells us about the place she spent her childhood - a place she loves, far from here, bordering another ocean. “You must go there,” she says. We are planning a trip that will take us near. “I want you to see it. I love it like a person.” She tells us about the white buildings and the blue sea. The gently sloped mountains. She says: “When I left, I felt like I had lost a piece of myself. As if my arm had been cut off.”

In the morning’s light rain, we stop at the used bookstore on the way home from breakfast. I find Impossible Object by Nicholas Mosley, which opens with a passage in which the narrator explains that he has been married half his life, this love beginning in a time of war. Now, there is no war. There is instead, a “drought, cherry and lilac, the crowds moving round the flower stalls and raising their straw-hats and blazers.”

This was the spring when we had been contented so long, chatting to men in grey trousers on lawns, the bourgeoisie, great guardians of the spirit. And at the first call they all put their hands up. The trees I had planted through half my life were now growing; my house in its fields, my sons between nettles and hedgerow. I thought - All battles are now in the mind; we must make our own war.

It was just about this time last year when I drove down to New York for a long weekend on a bit of a whim. There were exhibits to see in the museums. Visits with old friends that were long overdue. To wander the old neighborhood. To see - after nearly twenty years - my mother’s grave.

It was hot. I arrived at the apartment of a friend in Brooklyn and later, we walked to the wine bar in her neighborhood. They had stacked their outdoor chairs and tables, chained them up for the night, but we asked if we could sit out there on the sidewalk to watch people walk by with their dogs. We unstacked the chairs. I remember the heat. I remember J. telling me about the man she met at the bar - another one, in a different part of town. How they stayed up all night telling each other stories. It was not until morning that their bodies found each other.

We stayed up late. We read each other long passages from the books we were carrying around.

In the morning, I rose early and walked through the park where I startled a bunny that froze in its tracks, one brown eye fixed on me. I went up and down the stone steps. I came out to a clearing and counted the dogs playing in the grass. There were dozens of them, running.

In the office, we ask each other “How are you?” “Did you have a good weekend?” “How is your day going?” as we pass each other in the hall. I am aware of the clicking sounds that my shoes make on the polished wood floors. The rhythmic announcements of my comings and goings.

“Good, and you?”

Fine. Good.


People move in and out of our lives in unpredictable and sometimes inexplicable ways. My friends in New York. How I had not seen them in so long and we spent a handful of hours together and laughed easily and then returned to the lives we were already living. And years pass like that - before and after.

Last year, I read the unpublished manuscript of someone I barely knew. I came to have it in a rather unremarkable way, but if ever a book and a reader were meant to find each other at a particular moment in time, I am certain that it was this book, this reader, this moment.

It is the story of an adopted girl who disappears as a teenager and much of the action of the book is her stepfather’s search to find her. He follows her - through years and across continents - and there is a reunion scene in a cemetery on a tiny island in the Venetian Lagoon that made me weep until my eyes puffed up. I read it all at once on a sick day in my bed. It hit me so hard and so fast that for days after, it brought me up short of breath, thinking of it.

I wept for my mother. The one I never knew. For the choices she felt compelled to make.

I wept for M., stepfather to my own daughter. The fierceness of his love for her, even knowing that she was not born to him, even knowing that her heart is divided.

For my daughter, for her divided heart. How she is poised on the brink of her own journey which will take her to places we cannot follow.

But mostly, I suppose, I wept for my own orphaned girlhood. For all the years spent searching. For all the time spent aching for reasons I could not possibly understand. For a wound so old and so deep, from before I had words for my longing.

I wept and I ached. Overcome with wanting. Wanting perhaps what any orphan ever wants?

To think that there is someone out there, looking for you. To think there is one person who will never stop searching. To know that someone who has loved you will never stop loving you. Through years, across continents.

Will never, ever stop loving you.

Mosley’s impossible object is the “triangle that can exist in two dimensions but not in three.” An optical illusion. You examine it, you see its impossibility, but even after, the image of it existing in three dimensions remains. It lingers like a wish, a hoped for thing.

This life with its straw hats and its rose bushes. Its meandering walks through the park. Its polished wood floors.

Fine. Good, and you?

All battles are now in the mind.

I am fine, good.

And you?