from sky to seed

Building a Raft

The baby bird.

I love that scene at the end of Mad Men’s Season 4, where Betty and Don are in the kitchen, alone.  The divorce papers have been signed, new marriages arranged, their shared house sold.  She glances up at him.

Betty says, “Things aren’t perfect.”

It’s a very, very good scene.  As one youtube commenter notes: She wants him back.  He wants her back.  They’re both thinking: I can never get him/her back.

But Betty’s note on perfection — I’ve been resonating with that in my own life, and relationship, a lot lately.

Jon and I live in a funny cross-section of people ending their marriages — an odd place to float when you’ve only just embarked on your own shared passage.

When we were in Kansas last weekend, one of Jon’s married friends cornered us, crying, “Why are women so hateful?  Why are women so hateful?”

“Come on,” Jon said.  “They’re not all hateful.”

“Name one.  Name one,” his friend pressed.

Jon hesitated and then touched my elbow.  “Her.  She’s not hateful.”

His friend shook his head.  “You’re not married.”

What do you say to that?  Nothing effective, I guess.  Jon and his friend debated back and forth, and I floated along, sipped my cocktail, feeling spared from both unhappiness and grateful not to have been publicly speared to the witch’s stake of bad spouses.

I feel enormous sympathy for people trapped in bad marriages, disappointing lives.  And I can see how the daily misdeeds of even your most beloved might wear on you.  But I also know, very acutely, that I never want to stand in that place.

So I find myself collecting the good and holding it steady, letting it rise.  Like the morning I walked out to my truck to find new garden tools quietly waiting for me.  Or the day that I came out to the garden to find that Jon had spared me the chore of hand-watering by hooking up a gravity feed to my irrigation system.  The paused effort he makes to remember, oh yes, she prefers her breakfast eggs scrambled.  Private moments in which I see him talking to my dog.  In a small, quiet part of myself, I store up these small testaments of love, allow them to keep me afloat in the hours when we feel more like adversaries.

From divorce to death, Jon has a lot of reasons from his past to be disillusioned with love, but lately he seems buoyed by hope, too.  And so am I.

“There are some happily married couples,” I’ve heard him say to unhappily married men.  “They’re out there.”

A man who does bulldozer work out at the farm “loves the shit” out of his wife, as Jon puts it.  “And she loves the shit out of him, too,” he’ll say.  I suppose that’s our bar to meet: Love the shit out of someone, and hope they love the shit out of you, too.

Yesterday was a pre-Fourth of July town celebration that they held out here at the airport.  An airshow, fireworks, old fashioned root beer stands.  It felt nostalgic and sweet and the sky turned purple at sunset.  So many children came out, tan and angled, that their faces seemed to blur together.  They fell in love with Pax, let her chase them, hooked their arms around her neck to pepper her snout with kisses.

At one point I was watching Pax dart back and forth between two boys playing catch when I spotted a small flutter on the ground near their feet.  With a hot pang of irritation, I thought it was an empty chip bag.  But then it skipped a few feet and faltered, and I realized it was a baby bird.

Several other children saw it at the same time as me and we hovered above it.  A little boy took it first and then passed it to me.  Terrifying, to hold the creature in my hands.  I could hear its heart exploding against my palms, the shivering, wirey talons.

I brought the bird to Jon.  He took it easily into his hands, pinching its ankles by his wrists.  Its eyes darted toward the ceiling and it lifted its wings, which expanded across the entire width of all his knuckles.  A small “ooooh” rose up from the children gathered around us.

“He’s ready to go,” Jon said.

“Go where?”

“To fly.”

We left the party and the kids and walked across the concrete to the far field.  Pax stalked us at our ankles, but knew better than to attack.  Jon opened his palms.  The bird lay huddled, unbelieving.

“Go on,” he said.

The bird landed soundlessly in the grass, sprung several feet away, and disappeared.  We stood watching for several moments, waiting for it to resurface.

In a perfect world, the bird would have reappeared, bursting up from the grass to fly off into the dusk.

But nothing is perfect.  The bird never reappeared.  Like every other small miracle that opens itself to daily life, it would just have to be enough to know that the bird was there, somewhere.  It would just have to be enough to have faith.  To have hope.  I loved Jon more acutely in that small moment than I had the entire day.  This was life, imperfect and real.  Another good moment to hold onto, to build the raft used to float each other through the days.

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