The Way I Chose
On two or three mountains she swallowed me. The world was simple and mountainous, it fit my knees and palms.
And after she rose and walked away with most of me inside, dissolving, the mountain held the back of my head long enough for me to forget that clouds were not all I would inherit. I slept, she let me sleep like that. Insects ate small insensible parts of me, but not the glorious portion, safe in her.
Fifteen years walk from the last mountain to here: a beat-up table in the flat, grassless middle of a Willamette Valley field. A dog run, a fenced-in, treeless acre: my dog wanders it, white and alone. This seems to be the only safe place to write, depression eats so much of me at home. Eats my bones so I don't stand, my heart so I don't feel. Eats my liver, the old courage for ascending the snowfields of Lost Man Pass, taking the woman up there, needing nothing but her and the air, the height.
Here where the Cascades drain and subside, I understand I am not one whom mountains will inherit.
I understand that the old mountain-kind of love is a fault, as well as an edge, and to try to stay close to it is to be shaken and broken, and so removed from it as completely as the way I chose—which was as simple as waking, as walking: walking to work, walking a stroller, walking one child, then another, to school, and back. There and back, day after day, a simple inertial force, all the way down to these dry flats.
Yet it has magnified me in a way, now I am a kind of mountain to my children—gray, obdurate, slow and seemingly unchangeable. Massive and alone in the middle of the living room, in my chair under the reading lamp, emptying myself into old books. A presence whose weather is unpredictable, to be circled and approached with care.
They are still not old enough to see how easily I will break, but I am, and that breaking, if I'm lucky, is still a long way down to go yet. But when they are old enough, not even this page will show how much breaking, how much emptying and being eaten out I accomplished, to deserve that late and terrible ease in their eyes.
Which will be looking down, then, at something laid out: not like a map or a plan, but like looking at their feet, stopped in an unfamiliar field. A grassless, treeless moment, mostly fenced in—and somewhere outside its unfastened gate, a dog they can't see, a white dog barking.