I do not miss her. But sometimes I miss the shadow of her on my eyes, the vague and flirting image to my side as some smooth raptor flushed and flew into the tule fog, low chuckling on the telephone. I miss the jokes, always the better restaurant a mile down the road from where we stopped at last to eat, the endless straight miles of two-lane through the orchards.
We walked through poison oak along the Stanislaus. Box elder beetles clung to every surface. A place to sit, a clear patch of grass, but the ticks advanced on us in waves. Morels poked through the rotting bark. The next day I wrote to her about box elder bugs:
on the banks, leaves catch breezes.
blue heron preens knee deep in muddy stream.
box elders sway, new in leaf and bud.
a million reddish tassels dust the ground
with pollen. A million
pollinated tassels swell with seed.
out of the clefts in ragged bark, out of
the eaves of homes along the road they come.
lithe, in black and red, insensible
to dot the swelling almond fruit
to perforate the maple leaf
to mass upon the ground and there to mate.
Conjoined, they face away
and each one pulls against the other.
She scolded me for flirting.
I do not miss the way she fenced her borders, sentries ever on the ready. But I miss the way she infiltrated mine, my every word addressed to her, drunken yet I think inspired, sublimating decades of experience into baubles she might dangle from her ears. After her my words were tin and lead, and ashes. I do not miss the wrenching grief, the knees flexed up against my chest — but it would be unfair to lay that at her feet. I dug the hole myself: she merely tripped me into it.
I do not miss the way she made me feel. But I miss the way she made me think I felt, conjoined in an intoxication with the land, climbing through juniper and aspen in the Wassuks, pronghorn leaping where Rough Creek ran into the East Walker. We came around a hill and there the severe east face of the Sierra lay thirty miles away across a deep vale, mantled in snow, and I thought she was the reason I felt my heart would stop. I am not so foolish or self-involved to think the crows really speak to me. They make noises for their own reasons, and I glean meaning from it against their will, and that meaning strangles my depressive solipsism. But she was the lens through which I read this life. A mere part of the landscape, to me she stood in for the whole, an assignment fair to neither of us, nor to the world. Where they had been companions, ravens became ravens that I saw with her, and she liked the symbolism they provided her. This is how religions start, the filtering of experience through the other’s heart, forgetting to drink from other springs. Life is weighted down with ritual, its anarchic echo muffled under simile and explanation. Four years I spent with her beside me, though she was often far away. Each breeze, each shaft of light through dust I thought to describe to her. When we broke the song of crows made the hair stand up on my nape again. Eagle in the Douglas firs above the South Fork of the Trinity, his white head almost lost in fingered fog four days after the last we truly spoke, and I saw him more fully for the hole where she had been.
If she had not kept that from me for a time, I might never have known that it was there.
I do not miss the damage to my marriage, and that marriage has become much stronger since. Becky sees my dalliance as a symptom of the weakness, not a cause. I am beginning to agree. Ten years ago next month it started! Sometimes a calendar page can kick you in the gut. One day early on with her, she told me she would make sure I had enough love in my life. She overshot. Love is an important thing, and in her wake I have it in abundance. But hers was more than I could bear, and there are more important things than love. There are important things that love can sometimes drive out of your life, the sense of life alone, standing on a desert ridge, skin dilating and the true other diffusing in. Had I that and not love I would be lonely. Had I love and no aloneness with the world I would be desolate.