Shift

Think about a person who meant something to you; and by “something,” I mean at that time you felt like they were your whole world. They were the water in a gravitational pull with the Moon. The Earth tries to hold onto everything as the Moon tries to pull everything closer. Since water is always shifting and moving, the Earth is able to hold onto everything but its water. And so the moon pulls at it, and the Earth is constantly in flux. Alternating between high and low tides. So maybe that person was your Moon. Maybe they pulled you into their brilliant luminosity, and you bulged at the weight of that pull on one end and bulged at the weight of yourself at the other end. And you were a thing constantly shifting, just as the word “you,” depending on who you are speaking about and to, shifts.

***

I thought they were nuts. Perhaps you did too, at first glance. Their backs, bulbous and cratered like walnuts—like the landscape flying a mile above Utah—depressions that look almost whole and smooth, a tangible juxtaposition. When you turn them over, they are flat. Little stars carved into them. Think anise. A seed pod. I find its shape surprising and pleasing. I wonder aloud what they are and pocket a happy few.

But this was not a happy time, was it? Fort Bragg. Botanical gardens. You got the flu. And even before the flu: yours eyes, brown, had the cold wet of the sea about them, and your face, the pull of gravity. There was no light.

And maybe I knew this was a parting trip, something I needed, something that reminded me of somber and peaceful trips to the graveyard. I needed you gone, but wanted you near first—something I had to pocket before letting go.

The nameless seed pods are still a mystery to me. I look at them on occasion. They sit on a tray with my plants and accidentally get watered with the overflow.

***

We lay under the gentle pressure of a midweight down comforter—too hot for Chico—our skin warm and radiating. Us, tangled in sheet and thought. We talk about the coast. An upcoming trip.

I map the crow’s feet near your blue eyes with the tip of my finger. Like a car driving through the redwoods, I take the turns with care, think about the cargo, all it means to me, the three years and counting of building a life.

I mention the cookie-crumblers. There being a lot of them on the drive from Chico to Mendocino. You laugh, kiss me on the forehead (a stroke of genius!), and proclaim, “The what?!”

***

cookie-crumbler (noun): a hairpin turn of the road

etymology:

We folded into each other like socks in a drawer, but in the backseat of a tan 1991 Toyota Corolla. We lived an hour from the coast, but for three young girls and their parents, one hour slipped and stretched into eternity. When the hairpin turns begin after valleys swept with grass, under the watchful, almost sentinel gaze of giant redwoods—looming—a package of cookies sways on the dash in a pedantic fashion. Hitting the sides of the car that frame the windshield. Stopping. Sliding in the other direction at the next turn. Stopping. Repeating.

Dad, or is it Mom?, call the sharp turns cookie-crumblers. Us girls laugh from the sock drawer in the back. Take up the chorus, “Cookie-crumbler!” at each turn and carry the idiom with us, out and into the world, like something caught in the tide.

***

There is a photo of me and my sisters by the Pacific Ocean when we are little. We are on the beach facing the water and away from the camera. Waiting for the waves to crash at upon us. Waiting to meet them. And then to run away when they pull. With squeals of delight and rapture as our feet sink into sand and the water sucks and eddies at our ankles.

What unforeseen things lay at our feet in this still frame? How was I to know that feet in the sand at three or four would tether me to a place? I can feel it now. Pulling me in gentle susurrations. In what iteration of place will I come to greet the ocean, at nearly 32 years?

***

We talk the whole way. Four hours. We take a break at Ukiah and Redwood Valley. My hometown. The way there, I ask your histories. Take them in as I watch the road. Your stories tell me that the world asked you to do things with your hands while you wanted to do things with your mind. I empathize.

The valley is unusually foggy. We both comment that we like this: how sound dampens with the heaviness of the air and a sleepy calm prevails. We slip through it, on to higher ground.

I show you my histories.

Acting as a tour guide, I slowly drive through Ukiah and point out anchors of place. “That was the trailer park we lived in my first three years. Sunset-Something.” Or, “Oh, here! Here is the plaza I wrote about in that one piece. Where that stranger licked my face.” My timeline is not as neat and linear as yours. It is parsed by place.

I drive you down my old street in Redwood Valley. Pinecrest Drive. It is a private road, unpaved, and we are trespassing. Voyeurs of the past. I slow the car to a stop, and we take pictures. It looks different. A bigger fence fully encloses the space. A giant “D” rests at the top of the gate that guards the driveway, and I wonder what it stands for. It looks like they cleared the landscaping. I remember every bloom and leaf like it is a map of my youth. Have the trees thinned in the forest behind the house? I remember when they housed me.

***

We curl our toes into the sand. We look at names of strangers who wrote their names at low tide, curves and lines that will soon wash away as the tide comes in. It seems an ephemeral fancy to do so. Reminds me of William Carlos Williams, “Children pick flowers. / Let them. / Though having them / in hand / they have no further use for them / but leave them crumpled / at the curb’s edge.” We do not write our names. We cross a frigid stream to collect our own private corner of the beach. We walk out to the water and face it. Hold hands and wait for the waves to greet us. This could be a still frame from youth. Except the skies are not cloudy. And I am looking at this man. And I see him. And I see he sees me. And, by some small miracle, we are present.

We walk back to the car. Make sure our luggage is situated. That the plants we bought at the botanical gardens for our yard will not shift too much on the cookie-crumblers on the road home.

***

Going to the coast now holds a new meaning. A tender kind of hopeful meaning. A meaning I can hold in my hands and speak aloud my intentions to. It is no small wonder, but something vast that swells inside of me.

My love for myself, finally. My love for this man, growing. They tether me.

I think about the seeds we’ve planted and can name them: hope where once a hollow, a future exponential. The fact that we’ve planted them in the first place; who do we think we are? Us, who felt the heat of the soil in our palms and still dug in. Folded over the land in mindful heaps (is this joy?). Just look at how beautifully this garden grows.

##

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Angela Youngblood
Angela Youngblood lives and writes in a small northern California town. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from CSU Chico. Her prose has recently been published in Entropy and The Boiler Journal. Amateur plant enthusiast, but not-as-vigilant-a-plant-caretaker-as-she-would-like-to-be, she tries to nourish things to grow. She sporadically posts on her nebulous blog youngofblood.wordpress.com.

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