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Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Gardener's Diary: Thirteen Months

Image result for moss garden


The other day I was pouring the water out of a vase of camellias whose blossoms had gone off. I planning to toss them. In fact, I was on the way out the door and on the way to the compost bin before I stopped, turned, returned to the kitchen, and reached for a knife. Cutting away the bark to bare the cambium, I remember thinking, "Well, you're still alive, just."

I was surprised to discover February 6, 2017 was my last Diary entry. It's a bit of larky fluff. I was feeling my oats. Business was finally picking up; people were buying books; I had a bank account again. I had come to terms with the likelihood my mentor and almost-joint-venturer, another book dealer, was not going to recover from two strokes in the fall of 2016 (he died around Easter).

After I posted the 2/6 entry, I got an email that my mother died, in the third-hand, roundabout way my family shares news with me. I had not been aware she was ill. I had not been aware of much of anything for years. After a cold war series of meetings in the five years after I came out in 1995, her wish to see my relationship broken realized, she stopped talking to me at all.

The last time I had a call from her, she accused me of staging a bicycle accident that put me in hospital during my father's funeral, and kept me out of work for eight weeks, to avoid attending.

After that she communicated only, and rarely, by email, the last time to direct me to give my personal and financial information to a "financial planner" she'd met online who was redoing her estate plan. I pointed out she lived in one of the wealthiest towns in America, where you can't swing a cat without hitting an expert financial planner. I would not give the information to a man who, for all I knew, might be the same one who had her ready to board a flight to Belgium to claim a lottery prize.

After that- and a well-chosen insult in response- she just went silent.

For seventeen years. I was angry, I was sad. Finally, I was resigned. My mother was not one to be moved. If she moved, it would be her decision. So I just waited. And thirteen months ago I realized, she had made a decision to die unreconciled: something she had warned me about. If I did that, she assured me, I would be miserable for life. Apparently, she wasn't when she tried it on. At her memorial service I learned her last verbalized thoughts were that the six brothers who predeceased her were bidding her come and join them. None of them suggested I was a loose end worth tying up.

So I was not of one mind on getting the news, but I knew my duty. Summoned to the memorial service- my first family gathering invitation in over two decades- I nodded and smiled and thanked people for attending as most of them shunned me as best they could without being ostentatious.

I was posed for photos with family, and then no one sent me any copies.

I was a prop, and when the event was over I was dropped off at home and I still do not know what was done with her ashes, or the disposition of her estate. I have a pretty good idea, going back to the last century, I was not included, and long ago made my peace with that. Overall, though, the silence that has accompanied the year since has surprised me a little.

Somehow, I thought the old ledger would zero out, and my siblings and I would open a new one. I don't know what got into me.

I still consider, looking in the mirror in the morning- though not every day- "your own parents disowned you, after all those decades of 'we'll always love you, no matter what.'"

Nothing has changed. My mother turns up in dreams to chide me, and I hear from relatives when I post things they don't like.

A month after my mother died, I was walking home from the grocery when I tripped, fell, damaged my left knee and broke my right wrist. On adrenalin, I made it the 9/10ths of a mile left, went into shock, and woke several hours later unable to walk. My left leg had locked in place and my wrist hurt something awful, and I was alone.

As is their wont, my neighbors- all of whom are even older than I- speculated on not seeing me, but did not come to see if I was, in fact, ill.

Inside, I managed to get into a rolling office chair that was home when I wasn't in bed, and re-set and splinted my wrist. I managed to alert customers business would be slightly disrupted for a time; a friend read it and had a grocery deliver me things I could warm and eat one handed and a bit with the other. My fingers could move, just not up or down, back or forth, or clockwise kinda stuff.

Business dried up.

I got out of the house a month later, my knee healed. My wrist is about 95%.  My vegetable season was a farce: too little, too late.

About all I did in the garden was mow once a month: the front yard, to keep my neighbor Mildred happy across the street. The backyard, out of sight, every other month.

Then, poof! It was autumn, and I started closing up the yard for the year. My singular achievement of 2017 was power washing the driveway for the first time in thirty years. The drive is 180 feet long. It took three weeks, and three complete passes, to get it one consistent color (when I stopped for a couple of days of rain- leaving the last section in its acquired graphite and the rest in a lighter grey- Mildred came over to tell me I'd done a very good job, "until you stopped."

Come fall, I got 40 hostas from a neighbor and stuck them in the ground to deal with in 2018.


The holidays- as always, a miserable, solitary slog punctuated by worries about dwindling funds- came, then went. A consulting gig that paid out at Christmas, 2016 did not in 2017, despite vastly more work having been undertaken, with vastly improved results (it's a volunteer, grace-and-favor gig). 

2018 launched cold, gloomy, wet, and hungry. I dusted off the 2015 rationing plan. An acquaintance dangled the possibility of an investment in the business, then, apparently, slept on it and awoke refreshed and free of *that* idiot notion. People continue to look at, but not buy, my books.

Facebook introduced an algorithm shift that cut the reach of my listings 25 percent overnight.

February came along unseasonably warm and sunny. After frittering away the first week, I dragged my bony ass outside and considered what to do. I needed a project, something big enough to take a long time, and complicated enough to get my mind off my accumulating, and ruminatively time-consuming, worries.

I decided to build a moss garden in the front yard.

I started digging February 6, 2017. It just worked out that way.

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