It is mid-May.
Jade is originally meant to stay for a week, but she stays for ten days instead.
I do not know how to communicate how glad I am to have her here. I am the sort of person who sends handwritten letters, or gives Grand Gifts to show gratitude, but who struggles with the basics of close emotional engagement. With that in mind, sometimes I re-watch Hannah and Her Sisters, and I want to believe I am the desirable Lee or the fragile Holly – but in truth, I am the easy-to-resent Hannah. Hannah, who never needs anything from anyone.
Jade works in the Arts, and some of her work can be done away from Los Angeles, so she works while I lay on the sofa in a drug-addled stupor with my leg in a machine that bends it for several hours each day. My contractor has not finished the bathroom renovation he promised to finish a week ago, so Jade puts on her headphones as the Tile Guy cuts marble in the background.
One thing is clear: We did not expect to be Here, wherever Here is.
Jade has come to New York wearing a hat with Half Dome embroidered on it, and I laugh, because I have the same one. It dates back to the early days of my divorce; my first week on the California coast. Jade had met me in Carmel, and although we were arguing about The Circumstances Surrounding The End of My Marriage, we drove to Yosemite to climb Half Dome.
For the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was doing.
In my head, it was the Perfect Time to climb a mountain, specifically, Half Dome. But because I do a lot of communicating in my head, I do not think I fully explained what this entailed to Jade.
We arrived in Yosemite at night and everything was on Fire. Jade’s house had once burned down, and she was terrified and furious at me that I had brought her to a literal firepit to force her up a mountain for no reason. And I had lost all powers of persuasion – I had just filed separation papers two weeks before – and had gotten a speeding ticket on our drive. At the time, I felt like it was an excellent idea to argue with the National Park Service officer over what federal preemption is and how it applied where a state law explicitly granted one the right to decline to provide one’s social security number for a speeding ticket.
(When you are getting divorced, it is shocking how angry you are – even if it is an amicable split. I denied how angry I was for a long, long time. I admitted to feelings of guilt, and sadness, and grief. But I look back on all the fights I picked with strangers; all the things I had to prove; and I cannot help but marvel at the magnitude of my rage.)
So Jade and I climbed – it took us all day but we summited Half Dome and looked out over the hazy valley. There were points where I had to scream back down the trail and encourage; bribe; cajole her up the mountain. But we did it.
Relationships are not easy. But that is part of how we got Here, I think: New York by way of California; divorced by way of Half Dome; married by way of a proposal in Yosemite Valley. Diagnosed with some rare disease by way of Scotland, and Amsterdam, and Big Sur, and an aunt who died in infancy.
So Jade works, and my leg bends, and the Tile Guy saws, and here we are.
Throughout the week, people come and go and Jade and I talk in between guests. Or sometimes, we don’t talk at all. Sometimes we just sit. On Saturday, when I am finally less disoriented and nauseated, Jade goes to spend a night Out East with an old friend of ours. JRA comes to visit; my friend Patricia comes in the morning to stay for a few hours. Others come and go. One friend jokes: Your house is always so clean and you are always so put together that it’s sort of fun to be like this. She confides this like we are little girls at a sleepover, and we are pulling a trick on My Ordinary Self.
I never need anything from anyone so I am grateful, even though I feel watched; supervised; incapacitated; and momentarily mortified about the state of My Apartment Under Construction. But the magnitude of my pain, nausea, and immobility is such that I do not have a choice. I have to ask for help.
By Sunday, nearly a week after the operation, I am feeling Marginally More Human. My friend Smplefy, who once met me in the Edinburgh Airport, is in town and he stops by with his daughter in tow – he is picking her up for the summer from a nearby college. He has asked me what he can bring to cheer me, and while I am inclined to say Just yourselves! I remember that JRA tells me to tell people specific, actionable things they can do for me, for both their benefit and for mine. So I tell him what I really want – a black-and-white cookie – which they proffer upon arrival. I know it is a labour of love because they are Californians, who have absolutely no idea what a black-and-white cookie is, and they have brought a fresh one from the Carnegie Deli.
While we are chatting, Jade comes back from Long Island. I watch her as she talks to our guests, and I cannot help but be completely overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who have come to be with me.
I am thinking about Scotland, Smplefy says suddenly, And your grandmother’s bracelet.
I am momentarily shocked, because that has been on my mind since the beginning of this adventure; since my diagnosis. Additionally my grandmother’s birthday and the anniversary of her death are upon us. But that bracelet, and those clues – they had been my information; my burden. It feels so strange for some one else to be in the thick of that with me. I am not even sure my mother had remembered the jewellery, or could piece together how it led to this place. Then I remember that M has a frightfully good memory, and he is struck by small details and things of beauty all the time.
It’s funny you should ask about that, I say…
So here we are.