Coyotes sing just outside my window. I awake. It isn’t a dream. The dogs take off after them, singing joyous outrage. The sheep must be protected. Hazel the little goat has broken her leg somehow, and my host will cart her down to the vet in an hour or so. Last night we fretted whether she would die of shock, but she was alert and hungry at two-thirty in the morning.
They aren’t made of money, but what can you do? You take care of your animals. Better one doesn’t do the math, amortize the vet bill with each hoped-for pint of milk. Farmers know the value of a life better than most anyone, or at least to the greatest degree of accuracy.
The sun is not yet up. At this time of day, at this altitude, the air is pink; pink as the belly of a salmon waiting at the threshhold of its home stream. It takes a pulse of storm, a quickening of fresh water, before that mystery unravels in their guts, propels the swift journey up the mountain.
It took a long time for me to fall asleep.
What was the last eight years but a surrender to myth? What was the last eight years but an attempt to deceive the people I loved most, myself first among them? I planted trees and watched them unfurl leaf after thirsty leaf, watched them overtop my house, only to be uprooted by a mere pulse of storm.
“Love is not enough,” I’d said at times over the last eight years, and when my friends asked me what I meant I had to confess I didn’t know. The sentence felt like a still, dark pool, a letter from the self I had paved over. I tried to send roots down into the rock, into the bedrock beneath the house my wife and I moved into after I said goodbye to Sharon, and as long as the dog both worshipped me and needed me I could persuade myself that it was right.
And then we draped our marriage over him in that rude hole, covered both of them over with broken bits of rock and sterile soil, tamped down a mantle of garden over both of them. The garden didn’t take. When I moved out the weeds had grown head-high, and I had to clear a path when my friend Matthew helped me carry the couch out to the U-Haul truck.
Love we had in abundance. Love is not enough.
Every dog within a mile is barking, a self-sustaining chain reaction propagating outward from the coyotes. I pry my eyes open again, pull the blanket down to my shoulders. A cloud off toward the Rio Chama in the west reflects the sun’s first yellow. She’ll show up in half an hour, haul me down to Santa Fe for a day of doctor’s appointments, a day of fretting over the Jeep’s transmission though I do not know that yet. I swing my legs over the side of the bed.
Who had I fooled? No one save myself. We watched the salmon ten years ago, or eleven; we walked sodden streamside fire-roads under redwoods and looked for spawning coho; we argued over the meanings of words; we walked together silent and content; and then the end. A marriage must be preserved! No matter that the married grow despondent and alone in the midst of love. Who had I fooled? No one save myself, no one save the one who spun the myth himself, caught on the unseen cleft between the right and proper things to do.
All of it hindsight and we spoke frankly of it yesterday, spoke of my missing her and denying it to myself, covering it in drink and cynicism and flirtation, her settling for a life without me as though she had learned a lesson about wanting too much kindness. Her friends joked kindly about her life and what it would be had we stayed together. A tentative diagnosis of a terminal disease is a prospect, a place of sudden perspective: you see your life arrayed in front of you as though you stand on a mountain above it, forked paths and roadblocks limned there plain before your eyes.
All of it past tense save the deep friendship, the thirsty friendship; me happy with my lover in Los Angeles, her roiled in family and heartache a generation old. I am the friend who wants nothing from her save a friend who wants nothing from me. I am the beat of crows’ wings that echo off the stucco and straw bale of her home here.
That is, at last, sufficient.
We are, at last, at the headwaters, each of us still tasting our storms’ pulses.
Last night the day wound and rewound through my head, a decade’s worth of conversation distilled, images and regrets, and as I heard the back door open and Erin went out to check on little Hazel at two-thirty the image came that eased me finally into sleep. My head laid innocent in Sharon’s lap, the breeze played over us. The scent of water was in the air. A chorus of sheep-thieves sang out on the mesa toward the Rio Chama. Their song was tenuous and distant. It faded into silence just as it reached us.