Marcia Aldrich is the author of Girl Rearing, published by W.W. Norton. She has been the editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. Her book Companion to an Untold Story won the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is the editor of Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women published by The University of Georgia Press.
I walked 2,120 miles give or take a few. I was walking as if my life depended upon it. Sometimes I broke into running, the beat to move forward was so strong, as if one of my flock was going to plunge off a cliff if I didn’t catch her. I pissed off my daughter fewer than five times, an improvement over my past record. I pissed off my son once and badly, and so the improvement with my daughter was erased by my poor showing with my son. I wrote two essays that did not sing. They plodded dully along until they finally sputtered to a halt. I wrote three essays that I knew from the soles of my feet to the top of my head were the real thing. Mysteries really, or miracles, or maybe those are one and the same. I don’t know where those essays came from or why they arrived untrammeled. Or why, despite all my labors, those two essays were stillborn. I worried what my stillborn essays foretold—was I faltering as a writer? Or are essays like plants? You stick five in the soil, you water and watch, and two die and three live. Those are the odds—same soil, same water, but something different grows. My ears began ringing—it’s called tinnitus, and there is no remedy and I don’t know the cause—possibly a noise trauma like living close to construction. Or possibly age has dropped in for a visit. More than a visit, I’m afraid, more like a long stay. I wondered when I’d say hello age, I can’t say I’m happy you decided to stop in. It’s a swooshing, all day every day. If I focus on the sound in my head I’ll go crazy. I am my own white noise machine. So, I’ve spent more time outside because the wind moving through the trees made me less aware of the wind in my head. I embraced the sound of rain. My bones got stronger—it’s true. One door opened as one door closed. I saw deer running in snow filled woods, in wide circles, looping round and round, like school children holding hands. No one was chasing them—the chase was in their blood. Is writing in my blood? Did it start that winter when I had the chicken pox and was propped up in the sickbed looking out on a landscape of swirling snow and reading Jane Eyre? And now all these years later, was it winter in my brain? I had a harder time remembering names, never my strong suit. Not just the names of people I’ve recently met but the titles of books, authors, dates, terms, vocabulary of all sorts have been disappearing. No one saw the change in me yet. How much time do I have before it will become apparent I no longer have a grasp on language, that I am living in an abstract world?
For the first time since I was a girl, I didn’t make any money and it made me feel vulnerable. I visited three book groups and had the same experience at all three. Few attendees read the whole book, some didn’t read it at all. The discussion was exhausted in twenty minutes, and mostly people talked about themselves. I didn’t return to any of them. I had my first garden, a small plot in a community garden where I grew my first lettuces, basil, cilantro, parsley, kale and dahlias. I learned what bolted meant—when unexpectedly my lettuce soured from the heat someone said your lettuce has bolted. Bolted–it’s a useful word, don’t you think? I wish I had learned it sooner because so much sours unexpectedly. I felt great disdain for small aggressive dogs, especially white ones, who my Omar and I encountered on our walks. They barked and charged his legs, trying to nip at his greatness. He refused to notice their presence, and this was instructive, behavior I vowed to follow. Leaving my garden, I slipped on the loose gravel in the parking lot and twisted my ankle badly for the 400th time in my life after a fellow gardener had berated me for getting water on a tomato plant, a cardinal sin in the garden world I learned. Later I marveled that there was still so much I didn’t know. Who would have thought you can’t water the leaves of a tomato plant? I almost stepped on a snake on one of the trails in the garden. It was a harmless variety, even so I was surprised how undone I was thinking about it curled around my lettuces.
I had too many fights with my husband, probably equal to the number of avocados I ate. An observer might say I wanted something from him that he was unable to give. Or I wanted something from my life I was unable to make happen. I don’t know. Most would argue that at this stage in life any fight is one fight too many. I thought too much about what makes people happy, whether happiness is an admirable goal, or whether I should try harder to embrace my own melancholy rather than fighting for some illusive state called happiness. No conclusion was reached. Just exhaustion. I witnessed a stultifying number of women talking, animatedly, and wondered how and why they did it? Isn’t it exhausting to talk that much? I’d want to put my head in a snow bank after some of the marathons I’ve seen. The number of acceptances and the number of rejections for my essays was a wash. However, it was no, no, no for my book. No one, but no one on the planet, wanted to publish my book. Before it even landed in the received column, it was moved to rejection. My loathing for golf increased, something I didn’t think was possible. Learning about the millions of golf balls that have been hit into the ocean, toxic to their core, pushed my loathing to the heavens. Not to mention the chemicals and water required to keep those greens green and the image of our bloated president taking a swing. Which leads me to mention the unparalleled disgust I have felt about politics and the damage that is being done, and the need for the first time in my life to employ strategies not to sink under the weight of outrage and depression in response to said damage. I signed more petitions and wrote more letters this year than ever before, I gave more money when I had less to give, and I felt the futility of both. I discovered that I would like to live in the desert. I longed to still ride horses. I missed them. I was my true self when I rode my horse. I talked to my horse in a way I don’t talk anymore except in my essays. Sometimes I talk to my dog when we’re walking, but it isn’t the same. It’s not his fault—we’re just not close enough, he’s too low to the ground. My husband told me he loves me frequently even though we fought too much. In this, I think I was unusual. I often have thought I can’t take love in. I’ve asked when the damage done to me will stop. Surely I’ve outgrown it by now, surely my life has healed over the wounds. But the answer was not as optimistic as I’d like. I saw a coyote, tail down, hurried, intent on getting somewhere, running along the edge of the bank of the river and I resolved to keep my tail down and keep running along the edge of the river of myself.