lundi 8 juin 2009

There's no sunshine when he's gone

June rain falls again


It's Monday morning and the sun didn't come back out, and it's only to work to which he's gone.

We start to get very worried every day there is no sunshine; not that rain isn't necessary, it's just that for the last few years, when the sun goes away, it tends to stay away, for whole weeks at a time during the summer.

Nothing is as beautiful without sunshine. There is no magical, delightful, intoxicating (it is) play of light in the leaves and the petals of the flowers to make the colors vibrant. They are just green and purple. Or green and orange. Colors waiting for life. Whole flowers bloom and die without ever being beautiful. Whole seasons of flowers bloom and fade away without even being seen from behind the walls and the closed windows. The birds don't sing. So, on a day like today, when the sun is gradually covered by uniformly ash-gray clouds, like an old camp fire exhausted, we begin to worry that this is the day that the gray, cold and wet summer begins again.

And my "to do" list is long and discouraging.

There is the pool, which needs more vacuuming and chemicals, now that the electricity is restored to the pump. It also means that we are about to be solicited, heavily. Watching the sheets of algae disappear into the vacuum yesterday, my husband glanced over to the neighbor's lower garden, just behind the wall along our hydrangea bed behind the diving board.

"Ca ne va pas passer inaperçu très longtemps. Je pense parfois qu'il serait bien d'installer un film vert." He sighed. It took me a second to get it. A green film we can pull over the surface of the pool to make it look like we just never have been able to get the pump going to keep the neighbors at bay. I laughed.

"Elles montent sur le toit de leur cabane afin de mieux guetter la piscine. J'ai même trouvé des bouts de bois tombés dans les hydrangeas. Ca ne me surprendrait pas d'apprendre qu'elles s'en servent du pont pour rentrer du toit dans notre jardin, et qu'elles viennent dans la piscine quand nous ne sommes pas là." It has been disturbing to find lengths of wood, supported on the one end by their cabin's roof, and on the other by the top of our garden wall, looking every bit the bridge to our pool.

It starts about now, the gate bell sounding every sunny day around 5:25 pm. Sounding until I answer, even if it is an inconvenience, regardless of what I am doing -- which can't be called work (it seems) unless I am actually paid for it -- and as difficult as it is to say to an 8-year-old that no, it is not possible to come and play in the pool this afternoon, I am forced to do it, over and over again because the message "wait for an invitation" doesn't penetrate. Hope dies hard in the breast of school-aged children. They have even showed up at the gate in their bathing suits, towels in hand, all ready.

"Bonjour!" they say to me, "Est-ce qu'on peut venir dans la piscine?"

I raise my eyes to the windows of the house across the street and wonder if their mother knows they have arrived, all ready to go in the pool. I think she does. I have hinted, and she merely smiles. I think of our neighbor across the street and up the hill a long time ago when we were growing up, our babysitter's mother. We knew that their pool was strictly invitation only, and that the invitations, no matter how hot and muggy it got in the Syracuse summer, would not come. Under no circumstances did you ask. You did not even talk about the pool, in which their mother, our high school gym teacher and coach, did her laps. Two miles a day. We had been invited once, years before, when we were very young. Perhaps our reluctance to indicate any interest in the pool, out of a sense of propriety, enforced by our mother, canceled the hope of an invitation by showing us to be uninterested. Better that than risk forcing an invitation, we consoled ourselves, or soliciting pity.

Besides, I wore my jeans on the hottest and closest of days, sure that my body was far better off covered than exposed in a bathing suit. I nearly passed out on those days, working as a camp counselor for Parks and Rec, on the long walk to and from my old elementary school and the afternoons spent on the playing fields and the tar of the old tennis court the school hosed down to turn into a skating rink in the equally extreme winters, when the expression of humidity turned from mugginess and thunderstorms to freeze and blizzards from Canada, across the great weather amplifiers known as the Great Lakes.

The bell rang the other day. It rang and rang. I heard the gate open -- they don't always wait for a response -- and dashed into the house. I think I was seen. I saw a movement of white by the ragged corner tree, and I felt like a fugitive in my own home and garden. I felt, in short, like a coward and a fool (not the worst I have felt these past couple weeks). I returned to face my fate, grabbing my camera on the way back outside to take more pictures of the magnificently large green-headed frog, who had just turned his back to the afternoon sun where it sat on the mound of moss I saved from the old basin. I nearly offered him (or her) some sunblock. I squatted as close as the edge of the fish-pond-in-a-fountain would let me get to it, facing the gate, and the bell rung again.

I raised my head and a finger, placing it before my lips to indicate silence and then wagging it in the air before me, the silent "No, not now." I pointed to the frog she could not see on the mound of moss hidden from her view. She did not leave. I continued to try to get a picture of the frog's smile, straight across its wide, white throat, beating in time to its heart. Sam came down to head to Thai boxing, and went out through the gate. Later, when he came home, he said, "You know, Mom, she was still there, sitting by the gate when I left."

There is a deep and abiding interest in our pool. No wait is too long if there is hope yet of a desire satisfied.

"Oui, mais elle t'apprécie vraiment bien aussi," his stepfather -- my husband -- chimed in helpfully. And the fact that she does like me makes it even that much worse, because I like her, too. I just can't be the parks and recreation counselor for the village.

"Je sais, mais je ne peux pas les avoir tout le temps dans la piscine. Je ne suis pas le maître nageur du village, tu sais," I whined, sighing.

"Je sais."

Resist and feel badly. Give in with good grace and feel almost as badly for not being able to make the rules and get everyone to live by them. There's no point; they won't, and it's June, and I will hear Je m'ennuie every day when the bus rolls up to the house and lets the kids off. A green film sounds pretty good.

"Et oui. La pompe ne marche pas. On ne comprend rien! Chaque année c'est une chose ou une autre, et la piscine ne marche jamais," I said, laughing, imagining us swimming silently in the clear water after dark, making everyone believe that the pump just never did start working properly, leaving the water too green and murky to go in.

Then, there are the additional plants I bought for the containers, being watered by the falling rain.

The details I need to draw for the new entry to the kitchen -- the workers are supposed to be back in 2 or 3 weeks --, the details for a toit végétal for the petite maison, and a garage sort of thing that can pass the mairie's review for a structure for which they can close their eyes and give us the go-ahead on land that is considered a flood zone and on which no structures can be constructed.

There is the other guest room, the one I will paint green.

The sea grass floor-covering for the two rooms, about which I need to make a final decision. Do it or not? The installer called, certainly wondering what happened to our rush job for my half-sister's arrival, and how that went. His wife of 30 years, he had told me, has been trying to find her own half-French and half-English half-siblings. That being half the reason, if not the entire reason, for which I am now slogging through my days, on half-power. Only the sun and my husband help, and when he is gone, even if only to work, there is no sunshine. Si je te prends dans mes bras, tu arrêtras de pleurer? he asks, with tenderness.

I can't promise.

Que dois-je faire pour que la douleur du passé passe? Je ne peux pas exciser cette partie de moi-même sans me faire plus de mal encore.

C'est le deuil qui fait le travail, he says. He is right. I know he is right.

I worked on that room, thinking of my father, imagining that he could he could see me and that he knew that I was making it for her arrival, shopping with care at IKEA for the little things that would make it more than clean, that would make it comfortable and welcoming. It was already incredible that she would be here in only days, only hours. It was incredible that she would be here at all, after 32 years, and the more incredible a thing, perhaps, the more it shouldn't be invited. Je suis convaincu que ça va t'aider à long terme même si cela t'a fait mal dans le présent.

I am still in the present, and I suppose that I am not the only one.

You were wrong. You always thought our father was weak, but it wasn't my mother who didn't want you at his funeral. It was his wish from his death bed.

The measure of pain felt can be taken in that inflicted. It's hard to think about the long term when every internal wound is opened and bleeding at once now, and loss and abandonment feels like the deepest, coldest water in which you have ever swum, leaving you heavy and senseless, the shores indistinct.

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell.

Tell me what you have done, and tell me you are sorry.

It wasn't enough to explain what was wrong with my father. What could a 16-year-old have done that was enough to merit that?

It's different in my case, said my son.

It is different. His father told me as soon as he learned I was pregnant for our child that he could not be a father. My father was my "Dad" until he decided -- or accepted -- not to be. There are many circumstances under which to not be a father in the face of being or becoming one. We will both have lived without fathers, in very different circumstances, and circumstances, like everything else in life, can change. Often, they must, and we must help one another as they do.

Tell me what you have done, and tell me you are sorry.

We cannot love and understand our father the same way, ever. We can only accept one another's right to her feelings and to the truth of her life. If we cannot accept that, we cannot be sisters, ever. We might not be able to accept that, ever. We haven't been able to now.

I thought I could. I learned that I couldn't. I am not wise. I only try to tell the truth, even when I oughtn't. I don't know better. All I want is the truth. I am not ready to save others from the pain I have felt. My father left me when I was old enough to know, and I did not deserve that; no child could.

That is the truth.

I will try tell you what I have done, and to be sorry.
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