CASTING FOR COURAGE
The sun is breaking my heart, like a lover across a smoky bar. Please stay, come closer, warm me once again. Damnable star. She wears me thin out.
My husband once asked me, as he is inclined to do, “how do you want your last moment to go down, baby?” As I am fifteen years older than him (damn it), I reckon he will be present for my last act. Used to be, I’d answer him this:
I want to be swingin’ in a hammock, slow and with one toe tickling grass, with crickets in full swing and fireflies blinding my memories of everything but that moment. I want honeysuckle to be the only thing I can smell, and I want a glass of good muscadine wine in my hand (I’m thinking white, that time) and a Cuban cigar. My grandma’s afghan should be across my back, your hand on my knee, and Van Morrison singing in the background about sailing into the mystic.
And then I want to go.
Until today, I hadn’t thought about the whole last day. What if, y’all hold on to your overalls, we all could (I dunno) cast for this last moment? And that’s when it hit me. I was all “white on rice.” We can. Well. Slap me silly and call me drama.
Why is it do we forget that we are magic? Now, I don’t mean in those torrid moments of anguish when some nimnut has spoken our name in disregard, or those worrisome Mondays when our bank account looks shy. Naw. I mean: why do we forget the simple and sacred moments that are within reach of our athame like peanut butter at the end of a celery stick? I can feel that thump of something profoundly real at the tip of my fingers, so I’ll keep typing.
Since I was a very small child (and I’m a small adult, so go figure about fairy size) I have wailed and grieved and lamented the impending death of my beloved Grandma. Went on and on, as far back as my addled brain can factor, about her leaving this earth–and drove my momma to distraction, I’m sure. I’d rev up my little pink mouth into howls that rivaled that hound dog I loved as a child, Lucy, until my momma had no choice but to rock me back and forth: Grandma isn’t gonna die for a long time. Why are you doing this? Guess I knew that one was gonna’ hurt. And it did. But I was well into my forties the night my mentor let go, so afraid to die–and I finally looked it all in the eye.
You see, I think I predicted her fear. Even talking like this lends my mind to emotions that smack sticky of betrayal and disloyalty. She was my hero, but in those last blasphemous days of body humiliation and pride-leveling pain and degradation, she dug in her heels all stubborn-like and would not, could not, let go. Tenacious, she was. And I knew she would fight it, even as a child.
Maybe she needed a plan. I wish I could go back and craft that with her, perhaps a porch swing and the sound of finches right at that moment that the sun starts to look antique against grass. We could have plotted for sweet tea and cheddar cheese sliced so thin you could see your fingers. We could have spoken of her man she lost in her thirties, milk cooled in wooden boxes against river currents and she could have kicked off her shoes to let her sweet, nubby toes have a bit of air. I could have given her one last reason to have squinted that eye at me–always with a glint of humor and intelligence–and maybe we would have waxed long about those houses she planned and built, that boy she brained with a lunch box and the little girl she loved so much she couldn’t tell her.
I think she needed a plan.
Smart Southern women always need a plan. She spoke with me about everything, her hopes and dreams and regrets and disdains, but never the death plan. Not a real one, ya know, where you face the universe and trust the wind. And goddess forgive me, I loved her too much–to the point of injuring my own momma’s heart–I loved her way, way too much. So. I’ve been thinking about the sun. Let’s do this.
Addendum to the “death plan” aka spell-for-my-walk-into-the-Mystic:
(Doing it for you too, Grandma.)
Let everyone within a mule mile know how I love them. Give too much, only leave enough energy for what I need, and cook like my hand’s on fire.
Write, write, write my memories and hopes and dreams like a drowning woman so that when my tribe misses me, they can find my voice tripping across a page. Loud. Soft. Wistful. Belligerent. Me.
Tell my children that they are strong, that they are smart, that they are beautiful.
Say I’m sorry when I mean it, refuse to do so when I do not, and lay everything down at night before my noggin hits the pillow.
Plant things. Grow things. Cook things. Kneel to the sun, to the moon, to my Great Spirit like it’s 1999. No holds barred. F**ck em’ if they can’t take a joke. This was my life and ain’t nobody playing here.
Risk everything. Yes, risk everything. Risk betrayal by lovin’, humilation by speaking and condemnation by believing. I don’t have a lot of time here, at least not enough to waste like so much salt over a shoulder. Let’s do this.
Be kind to me. Why, I’ve been dancing around this love affair with myself too long: reckon I’m gonna’ commit to the old girl. I love my scars, my failures, my weirdly long toes and the horsey way I laugh after I drink tequila. ‘Bout friggin’ time.
Remember I’m a magic ol’ bitch and plan the last day. Ready?
Pancakes, coffee, my children and can it be May? Sunny, no rain, say about 78? I’m thinking baby birds outside the kitchen screen door and bare feet. Silly laughter and syrupy fingers.
Planting all day, at least attempting, ‘maters and herbs and peppers. My fingers deep in black dirt, music playing in the background. Barbeque and cole slaw with white bread, Lays Masterpiece chips and dark beer for lunch. Feet up, surveying all we have cultivated, my husband telling me I’m pretty covered in sweat and earth.
Dinner. Maybe Slap Yor’ Momma Chicken. But if I’m dying: mashed taters with crisp applewood-smoked bacon and melted cheddar. WAY too much port wine. Coffee, ’cause it doesn’t matter anymore. Chocolate creme brulee. More wine. Happy children, mayhap a grandbaby or two?
Laughter. Truth-tellin’. Hugs.
Watch the sun fall slow across the back forty. Hold my guy’s hand like he wants me to do, so badly. Hear those crickets, smoke that cigar.
Bravery. I plan to wait for Grandma’s voice, that sweet voice, and then bravery. (Cause of she’s gonna’ have my hide over that cigar and wine.)
And so, I have a plan. Mostly on account of: my children need this, too, need to see me content, need to remember that thump and need to feel my heart unafraid. They’re in training for death, oh sweet lord, yes. We teach them everything from tying their shoes to paying their taxes, but here, in this deep well of goodbye is the one place we just don’t seem to want to put the chalk on the board. Let’s cowboy up. It’s the one thing we forget to cast, that last unknown walk.
I plan to rock the house.
(Meet you there, Grandma.)