Last night I was reading Sinéad Gleeson’s Constellations: Reflections From Life, her 2019 collection of essays. I’d read a couple of the pieces in journals and liked them enough to want to read the whole collection. Which is stellar. They take as subject matter the author’s body, its traumas and illnesses, and move from Gleeson’s early wish for a miracle by bathing in the spring at Lourdes on a school trip to a vigil by a beloved aunt’s bedside as she dies. I kept two essays aside to read in the morning, this morning, with my coffee; and once I’d put the book on my bedside table and reached to turn out my reading light, something happened. For a month now I’ve been thinking about an essay with no idea how to proceed. In some ways I was too busy to write it. I was revising the essays in Blue Portugal, writing notes on graphic elements I hoped the designer would consider in his work on the book, scanning and writing captions for the images that will appear in some of the essays. I was having discussions with one of my editors about specific technical issues and how to solve them. In the back of my mind I had some beginnings, some threads, tangly and knotted, and I knew I’d need to tease them out eventually and find out where they were going, or (in this case) where they’d come from. A little voice whispered from time to time, Is this really your material to explore? Because the threads are connected to the surgery John had in October, what happened then, and after, and how I — we — learned to adjust our expectations about the future.
After I’d put Constellations aside, I heard (there is no other way to explain this) a beginning to the essay I wanted to write:
By the big window, curtains drawn against the delicate maples where finches gathered during the daylight as the pretty leaves fell, by the big window I sit with the two quilts I’ve brought with me for the duration: a patchwork of 6 inch squares arranged in a grid, a Christmas gift for a young woman I love; and a village of 4 log cabin squares gathered around wide green trails. At night I thread 3 needles at a time with lengths of strong cotton and I push them in and out, drawing the layers of pieced work, soft batting, and plain backing together. The stitches make their own new pathways on the surface, tiny marks like the trail a finch leaves in the damp earth beneath the trees. I see these marks when I leave to walk to the hospital twice a day, the ripe seeds plucked from fallen maple samaras by the hungry finches.
I went into John’s study (his is adjacent to our bedroom while mine required a trip downstairs) and fished around in his recycling box to find some envelopes to make notes on. I filled two sides of the 6×9 Access Copyright envelope and one side of a business-sized envelope from a publisher and put them both with Constellations for the morning. This morning. When I came downstairs to where John was sitting by the fire with his breakfast, I asked if he would mind if I wrote about the experience of caring for him in the aftermath of the surgery and its complications. He was quiet for a moment and then said ok. Maybe it will be something I write just for the two of us but maybe not. What happened between us took us to a new level of both intimacy and loss and do we really want to go there again? I know I have to untangle the threads but I also realize that what I find out about them might not make sense to anyone but us.