At one of the best toddler parks in Berkeley, River looks at the swings, the see-saw, the slide. She glances over at the sand box, surveys the various cars, horses, carts, and appliances. One turn in the other direction, and she runs to the grass, down the open hill, to the small Redwood Grove at the bottom edge of the park. I yell after her, “River, come back. Wait for mama. Do not keep going!” She doesn’t turn around, hear the words, or care about the consequences. River runs for the trees.
I run behind her with a Rilke poem in mind. He says something like: Citizens, open the gates of your city. Step out. Don’t you long for the enemy to find you?
“No, no, no. River. Do not run away!” She reaches the first tree, towering grandfather, and leans into its heavy bark. But I can’t stop myself, “River, listen to me.” Pointing to the sidewalk, “This is the line. You may not cross it.” She stares at me for a moment, looks up to her elder, steps across the sidewalk, and heads for the creek. River runs for the water.
I catch up to her at the next edge. I want to keep appealing to nothing, but the trees and the water enchant me, too. And I get it. Of course, I get it. I want to run for the same things. I just don’t let myself anymore.
I hear another voice in the distance that questions, “You here alone? What’s a young thing like you doin alone on the road? You got a gun?” I look to the older man, he’s a hunter, I can tell. “Nope, no gun. I just felt like driving. Wanted to see the desert.” He shakes his head back and forth, slow disbelief, “Man –o- mighty, if I were yer daddy, I’d never let ya drive out here alone.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been on the road for awhile. Not sure my dad knows where to find me. Can’t really afford to be scared. And anyway, it’s a beautiful thing to see so much space.”
The thing about the desert: it shows you what’s not there. Which reminds me of the title of a workshop that I took just days before the final demise of my first marriage – Getting Rid of What you Haven’t Got. Yep, a car accident, a workshop, a long road trip…that was pretty much the end of that! Sometimes it’s important to let go of people and places. And, sometimes, we look back a decade or two later and, sadly, realize that youth prompts us to clear the table of all contents, rather than confronting ourselves.
We learn. We age. We heal. Or not.
But if we want to leave the furniture in tact, it’s good to have friends. Not the nice kind of friends who support all of our decisions, but the ruthless (hopefully skilled) kind of friends. We cannot outrun anything. It’s really a matter of time. So, who are your friends and what are your agreements?
A good teacher is like a potter who holds the outside of the pot with one hand, while pushing out from the inside with the other. She takes us just beyond where we imagine we can go, holding steady, guiding our development. I fold my arms around her little torso. Little bean. “This is a creek, do you hear it?” She leans forward with a hand to her ear, “Mama, wa wa.” I point to the far end of a hidden, trickling inlet. “See through the branches, River, isn’t it magical?” She bends and looks for a minute, “Wah.”
I’m not in the desert. And I’m not at the creek. Sleep did not come to River today in the stroller out back or in the crib inside. After much protest, finally, her eyes closed five minutes into driving through an old, legendary park above Berkeley. And now I sit parked on the pinnacle of a hill, San Francisco across the water, the Golden Gate due West. Over a roof top the bay spreads out half way to the horizon. Turning my head far right, Mt. Tamalpais, black rising beauty. Behind her, down her back, the hills fall to the coast, outstretching to meet the ocean.
Trudging through the day, pained at my attitude in the midst of what I know to be open opportunities for peace. Some days are rain on the inside. Sun all around.
Standing over River’s crib in the dark, she doesn’t want me to tuck her in, no blanket at all. She asks for her car and her book, enfolding both in her arms, no kisses tonight. Almost to the door, I hear her say, “Sawry, sawry, sawry.” In the hallway I pause, close my eyes. I said sorry to her probably twenty times today.
I walk to my closet and take off my shirt. I scan and search, grab for the hot pink, black trimmed, flower motif blouse. All amends aside, the only thing left on my mind now is a drive across town, a small, swanky tapas bar, my beloved friend, and a dark glass of red wine.