There is always after

Filed under: Essays |

I don’t deal with bad news well.  No one does, I guess, but I am particularly inept.  I come from a long generation of people who know that things are just not going to end well.  I have dragged myself out that pit laboriously, growing muscles of resilience, positive thinking and, “everything happens for a reason.”  When bad things happen, though, those adaptations feel thin, and I am filled with dread.

Last week, my favorite person at my job got fired.  She went in a wave that ripped away about ten percent of my small company’s employees.  She and I cried and hugged at her soon-to-be-ex-desk, mourning all the breakfasts and recaps of Real Housewives episodes that would never be.  We had grown extraordinarily close in the year-plus that we had worked together, hanging out after work, texting on weekends.  She was also the counterpart for my position, the person who went to all the same meetings I did, who made my job easier, who knew when to shoot me a look when someone said something silly.  The loss of her meant I would be going in to a very different job on Monday than I’d gone to the week before.

I cried all day Thursday, (the day she got fired), a decidedly uncorporate thing to do.  I’ve never been great at the corporate game anyway, and since other people were also walking around with tear-redenned eyes, I felt okay.  In any event, it wasn’t like I could stop myself.  On Friday, I walked around like a zombie, mercifully during a pre-planned “work from home” day.  Saturday, I burst into tears spontaneously as I made my morning tea.  And I cleaned closets.  Nothing like getting your stuff in hand to help you regain an illusion of control.

Sunday, with no more clutter left to unravel, I decided to stock up on food.  I felt a massive need to prepare against famine and to feather my nest, buying too-expensive new pillows and sheets.  I spent the morning on About.com reading about how to create a spa-level bedding experience, wanting to shield myself from the world with thread count and comforter loft.  Then, I bought enough frozen and non-perishable food to feed my kids and me until winter’s end.

Finally, I had done all that I could.  I was still sad, and scared for my own job, and mourning the loss of something that had been pretty special, a working relationship that doesn’t come along all that often.  I had bled my worry out with the bags of clothes and toys to donate.  It hadn’t helped.

I went outside to my front yard, its final fall leaf cleaning neglected, small patches of snow clinging in the center of iris clumps.  Its January beauty was something that only its gardening mother could love.   Stumpy leaf fans popped up where I’d planted them in the fall, hoping for color in spring.  I picked leaves away from flower beds with my chafed hands, feeling my sadness soaking out of me and into the dark earth.

My heart poured its secrets onto the mulch, and my garden slowed me down enough to show me its answers.  Here, by the garage, I saw a hopeful little daffodil shoot peeping out of the dirt, way too early for the reasonable.  There, by the fence, was the gorgeous hydrangea I had transplanted in a hurry, and which shuddered off its leaves in sad protest.  In the fall, I was sure I had killed it with my haste.  But, in January, when I mournfully broke off a tip of one of its dead-looking branches, I found vibrant, supple green underneath.  I found myself singing in whisper to all the life as I walked it, the beautiful moneywort clinging stubbornly to its green, the forsythia already in preparation for its glorious yellow spring show, buds swelling its cold branches, the rosebush’s thorns reaching for me just enough to show me that it, too, had little red swellings where its leaves would emerge in a few months.

I was buoyed by my garden’s quiet dignity, its preparations during the cold.  It didn’t judge the frost, or resist it, or dread it, but simply lived it, then readied itself to live something new when the time came.  I sat with the garden until the oblique winter sun grew too dim.  I went back inside, still sad, still wondering, but strengthened by the memory of every daffodil shoot that dared brave the snow and say, “There is always after.”

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