What I Asked For

There is no green like this one. The first green, when all things are bright, the old dark is being left behind and nothing is armored yet. The trees next to the creek, everywhere, are that holding that golden green that Robert Frost named, that S.E. Hinton's Ponyboy loved in "The Outsiders." This green is all promise, all possibility. Here, walking next to the creek, blue sky, sweet air. On the path at my feet, a Cottonwood bud, broken off by some stray wind. I pick it up. It has fallen 90 feet to land here, five tender green tips extending from winter’s wood. It is so sticky and covered with sweetness that it looks like it has been dipped in honey. I am almost tempted to put it in my mouth.

I think I haven't slept more than six hours a single night this week. And the influx of new things into my life has taken away my naptime. That's okay. I am getting what I want, what I have asked for, for so long. And anyway, watching the Red Alder catkins fall into the water and float by on the current is almost as restful. I sit down and my shadow startles half a dozen salmon fingerlings from under the bank. On the other side, some tree or bush, the Dogwood maybe, has extended its roots into the water like a hundred pieces of red licorice, elegant and vermillion bright and I remember that day, five years ago, when I first saw the vermillion flycatcher. I remember waking up in Arizona in April, looking at his picture in my mother’s field guide, small and solid scarlet except for a cape of sooty wings and a black mask. He is a lipstick outlaw. He is only in Arizona for a short time. I surprise myself by saying it out loud: "I want to see a vermillion flycatcher today." 

And then my husband wakes up and we have another fight. It's hard to remember the details now, it was so long ago and we have papered over them with so much good work since then.  But I remember the misery after the fight and the helpless feeling that it would never get better. The same fights, again and again, the feeling that I had committed myself and happiness was lost to me. I remember walking out of my parents' house and sitting down on the curb, putting my face in my hands and crying and crying. I want out and I don’t want to quit. I want to be happy and I don’t want to be divorced, with its sentence of failure and also loneliness and also exile. I sit there, as I have so many times before, with misery in one hand and failure in the other, hating my choices. The Sonoran desert dust pools around my feet.  I can see only the white rocks, the beige sand, my tennis shoes. The curb is hard under my ass, my knees jut. Time slows and my world narrows to this tiny space between my feet, as it does in the moments that turn out to be a choosing time: All paths available here, all roads are mine to cross now. And I finally ask myself the question that I have never asked myself before: "What would it look like to be divorced and happy?”


And then I got out my journal, and I began to write down what a happy divorce would look like to me: The money that is mine, the childcare that is easy, the home that is a refuge. The authentic friendships, the pervasive peace, the love that I would have room for in my life again...And when I finished writing, I got up and went inside and took my son’s hand and together we walked to the nearby playground and he ran, and climbed and spun. I remember feeling like I had stepped into another world, and perhaps I had. I tried for another year. So did my ex-husband. I think now that the counseling that we did then didn’t save the marriage, but it did save our divorce. Yes, we both tried for almost another year. But that was the day that I knew another path was possible. I felt it in my shoulders as I gently pushed Forest in the swing. I felt it, in my feet planted firmly on the ground and in the muscles of my neck, which turned my head, just so, slightly to the left, to where the vermilion flycatcher was just then landing on the playground’s chainlink fence… Just then landing: Red body, charcoal wings, black mask. Beautiful outlaw. He lit, took off again, returned. He lingered and so did we as the desert sun faded, and the twilight wore on, and I watched him, bold and beautiful and a miracule. I let the feeling of asking for I want and actually getting it seep into my bones.