We sat at brunch, Molly, Sanja, Amy and I, and ate strawberries. Amy pretended her strawberries were floating in champagne, but this time it was 7-Up, with some mint thrown in for the smell. It was spring, but not the weekend of Easter. I’m trying to remember, because things changed so suddenly after that. Sometimes when I think about it, I seem to see ribbons and Easter grass, hidden eggs and baby girls in shiny pastel shoes like Jordan almonds, toddling along, baskets in hand. Here’s one, here’s one, says Aunt Jocelyn or Aunt Kathy or even young Eric, who has not yet noticed that it’s not manly to help the babies find their eggs on Easter.
But then, realistically (because realistic is what we are trying to achieve, right?), there was no park, no bunny, no pastels, no champagne. There was the sound of prayers hovering with the smoke at sunrise. There was the incense. There was that confused dream/nightmare feeling that mixes fireworks, celebration and death – even now I catch my breath when I see them go off and think about the ancient Chinese, who were artists of the exploding rose-winged dragon, and of the actual impact that blows off arms, noses, and acres of land that moments ago held what? Sand, scarred roads, barbed wire, desert crops: almonds, sapote, dates, maybe a couple of straggling patches of naive cotton, cotton for ragdolls and memories?
Ragdolls and memories are wrapped bandages, wrapped bandages. There is a smell like saints. Why are saints all about suffering and death, I wonder as I eat strawberries with Molly, Sanja and Amy. They have forgotten – have they forgotten? – I don’t know and it is not Easter and I’ve been thinking about my old uncle Sam, who I haven’t seen since I was 7, when he was still alive and keeping peppermints in the pockets of his overalls. Funny to think of me and some old stoic Maine uncle – whose uncle was he, anyway? – sitting together on a wooden bench in front of a store where he knows everyone and I know only him and how did I get there?
Sometimes I have conspiracy theories, and sometimes I am calm and whistle songs I can’t name. Sometimes I wake up and know where I am. My uncle Sam, the one who must have been someone else’s uncle, my grandmother’s lover, my funny uncle, I just don’t know, only the feel of his comfortable belly and the smell of peppermint and sawdust. I remember he whistled old songs with that younger me.
In the back room, there was sawdust and the light was thick, heavy, coming through a window that hadn’t been cleaned since sometime before some war I’d heard about but was not yet born for, and the old guys played poker back there while I looked for bugs out on the front porch. But this is this war now and I’m a girl in overalls, I’m a girl who smells like peppermint and I try to raise goats with these brown kids in this dusty compound, and I give them candy like my old uncle Sam, whoever the hell he was.
Then again back before that, before the old uncle, there was the confession of old lady saints in my grandmother’s Nova Scotia. Whatever-all did the old martyrs of Nova Scotia come up against? Nessie? Old filthy crazy-assed fishermen with one leg and scurvy? Sounds like a movie now and that makes me want to shoot something. A can or a dove or that star over there, the one that rises first and can easily be overlooked. The incidental light of a small star that probably died gazillions of years ago and someone is crying at the sight of it, crying into it like that moment really matters and the blood that was in the sawdust or the sand could be fresh and could be hundreds of years old, really, because sacrifice in the name of whatever has always been a part of us – like hardwired really – like lust, like wandering in the desert hasn’t always been there, and justice.
Amy and Sanja and Molly and I decided back then that we would stop every morning at sunrise and sunset and press our heads against the dry earth or into the cool mud of wherever our memories might take us and let the images rise. Who can live without memory, I would like to know? Who can live without memory to build and destroy those walls? Who can live without water and blood?
Sanja and Molly and Amy and I have brunch together at least once every three months, usually at the changing of the season. I got a tattoo after I got home. Molly says her head is tattoo enough; Sanja strokes the fading marks trailing down her neck. Amy laughs more than all of us and brings strawberries every time, in case the brunch menu has somehow left them off. Strawberries bursting with juice, falling through the effervescence, held momentarily in space with fresh mint leaves. We make our toast – to memory – and talk for an hour, 90 minutes, about our here and now. Kisses, girls, to love, to loss, to forgetfulness, to the great deadly desert between us.