Friday, December 25, 2009


Since arriving "home" in Vermont a few days ago, in fact, on the drive up, a single odd memory, something of a non sequitur, declared itself repeatedly: I'm driving my cousin A. into Burlington in my parents' car, and we are heading around a moderate curve in South Burlington, just up the hill from Williston and not far from the airport. A. is very young, perhaps six or seven--a serious child with close-cropped dark hair--she is strapped into the passenger seat (before serious car seats, before anyone thought that might be dangerous). I may be in high school or college, and I've had a driver's license from the time I was 14 years old.

It is snowing, or it has been snowing, and there is a light accumulation on the road and the shoulders. Maybe I hit the brake lightly, or maybe it's a consequence of the dynamics of steering, but the car goes into a gentle skid. A. has been quiet, as she usually is, but her voice pitches high and startled, 'we're slidin'!'

And we are sliding several feet to the side of the road. I learned to drive before anti-lock brakes are standard, so I have undoubtedly released my foot from the brake and am steering into the skid with the wheels locked and that ineffective feeling of the steering wheel rotating far too lightly in my hands.

Nothing happens. A. is probably frightened, but shrugs it off when I tell her we're OK. After all, she's old enough now to grasp that floating feeling cars have on snow sometimes, as the wheels slide just within the driver's control, shimmying on the snow just the way you might feel on skis before kicking off and gliding.

The steering wheel now gone heavy with traction, I pull the car back onto the main roadbed and we continue on our way.

This memory floated on the surface of my consciousness on the drive up 22A in the dark and all the following day. I have now driven around that curve five times in the last 48 hours. No skid.

I drove it Christmas Eve into the midnight service at our church. If you're Christian (and, incidentally, me), that's the night the world often seems to stand still--a long night of waiting, arrival. The night the world declares itself, and the night my new year always begins.

Sick children are often said to 'declare' themselves, if memory serves me correctly, when their bodies announce an intention to carry on with this life.

I don't remember when or if Robert declared himself during the nadir of his initial sickness. I can remember his body curling inward as it looked like he would round the curve toward coma. But I was so determined that he stay that I felt my mind trying to mentally strap itself to his to prevent his leaving. He never really slid away completely, and his spirit, if not his body, gained traction bit by bit as he pulled--or I pulled--him back to a facsimile of consciousness.

His body slid away into disability, frantic, tumbling, over the course of a few days, and in the months that followed, into the next fall and the early new year, I found myself pregnant again, accidentally. The emotional intensity of those days is almost literally blinding, returning to them like coming out of a dark tunnel into the supernova of noon sunlight on a snow-covered landscape.

On three successive nights during that period of time, I had three dreams. I've never had dreams like these before or since; in fact, I rarely dream at all anymore. Describing them to anyone always feels a bit crazy because they were all of the same texture, all three, and it was a single dream in three parts, a triptych. In the first, a child that appeared to be Robert, or whom I thought at the time was Robert, started walking. In the second, the same child started talking. In the third, I miscarried.

In fact, if I were to tell you these dreams were not dreams at all, but some other variety of perception, you might tell me that the mind plays tricks, with your hand on my shoulder. However, I'm telling you that the dreams were perfectly real, and I woke each time believing the future was being imparted to me, and it was not unhappy, and broke with that other state of consciousness without the recognition of the false, which often accompanies a dreaming state.

I held those dreams close to my heart for years without telling anyone except my husband. They were an arrival, an annunciation, a declaration, the present and the future sliding together the way the brain perceives objects in the midst of a skid: at times, you are sliding toward the tree, at other times, the tree is rushing toward you.

I did miscarry a few days later. And, eventually, as I continued to believe the dreams were a truth shared with me, I understood that the blond child in the dreams was not Robert, but my daughter, who was born a couple of years later with a full head of blond hair.

Yesterday, my daughter, my father, and I went walking in the snow around the perimeter of what I'll probably always call my grandparents' farm, even though the two of them are gone. Four to five inches of completely white, mostly untracked snow covered the meadows and rock outcroppings and decaying farm tools, but it was not enough to bury last summer's three-foot dry stalks of Queen Anne's lace and goldenrod extending upward from the brightening field.

Sometimes the snow declares itself with wind, or mixed with sleet, taps its fingernails lightly on the windowpane. But in the Vermont of my childhood, mostly the snow arrived unannounced--it is, really, the snow that comes in on little cat feet, not the fog. And awakening, those mornings, that sense of white bright disorientation opening eyes to a world transformed.

My cousin and I are, once again, passengers in the same car--her daughter, born in September prematurely, is at a children's hospital in Boston now, having run through the resources of Burlington's best hospital. And N. is slowly pulling herself through the complications of an early birth, some of which will be lasting, and a rare disorder. And the future and the past are sliding toward us or we toward them, each of us with our hands on the wheel, pretending to steer and, somedays, feeling the heaviness of traction.


Macy Swain said...

That last paragraph so eloquently ties it all together, reminding me of why writing matters. Thank you for your heart, for sharing that skid, those skids, that walk in the snow.

Will said...

I am so glad to be in the "car" again with such a strong, influential mom and woman, my cousin! If I can be half the woman you are I will be very happy. Now that I see what kind of courage and patience it takes to be in this situation you amaze me even more.

Mom & Dad said...

I have watched with love, pride, and amazement as you have evolved into the woman you are today dealing with all the challenges facing you. I see the same courage emerging in A. You are two fantastic women!

Elizabeth said...

I'm not sure you'll ever need to write again, such is the perfection of this.

Thank you.