Winter is a trial.
The wind howls at our south-facing front door with such force that it whistles constantly. I often feel like I’m losing my mind. I make pretty foods, like quiches and cobblers and bright pico de gallos, to bring sunlight and warmth into my dark mind, but it’s not enough.
I’m grateful for every increasingly long Spring day.
Yesterday the temperatures spiked into the wonderful seventies. We spent the day at the farm, riding trails for the first time since last fall. It was far from beautiful — the trees bare, the ground exposed.
But as we explored its naked skin, I felt a tinder of love and thought about how hard Missouri has had to work to earn my affections. In Alaska’s mountains and rivers of my youth, seduction is so easy, despite the landscape’s ruthless apathy. Alaska can kill you in an instant. Missouri does what it can to be welcoming — the seasons turn reliably and it puts forth a good show in summer and fall. But sometimes I still find myself driving the plain county roads that cut through hay fields and the chant in my head hums, What am I doing here, what am I doing here.
We passed ponds turned clear by the long winter, their dark surfaces like mirrors; vistas of gray branches and the rolling Ozarks; turkeys, deer, fleeing foxes. We drove to our kudzu patch, whose rampant abundance in summer enchants and energizes. After the winter we had, every bit of it has been thrashed back to its sinister spines. Hard to believe it will come back, but it always does. It’s an invasive, but I can’t help but admire its resilience.
Late in the day, we found a dead calf on its side in the corner of a field. Jon raised his arms to his face to shield him from the sight. “Don’t look,” he commanded, but I looked anyway, met the mourning mother cow’s eyes, her teats heavy with useless milk. She held my gaze and then bowed to nudge her nose at the calf’s bloated belly.
Farmers have a different relationship to livestock than tenderhearts like me. I prefer to think of them as part of the scenery. Jon’s friend pointed out later that the dead calf meant a thousand dollars down the hole. It’s a lot of money, but for me the loss echoed in the miserable bleating from that mother cow. A loss is still worthy of grief for any animal. Elephants revisit graves. Sea otters carry dead pups on their stomachs long after they stop breathing.
But while there are these pockets of darkness on the farm, Spring is unfolding, slowly, ever so slowly, and there is more light than not. Most of our cows are happy and roaming. The old homesteads from years ago make themselves visible with persistent daffodil rows, the grass is gaining color, the forsythia sends out bright buds.
It was Jon’s birthday, we drank all day, mother matriarch stayed four hours to supervise, we ate burgers and cobbler and fed niblets of hot dogs to Pax, who was very happy for the occasion, despite that March wind.
Jon turned forty-eight, hard to believe.
The night took a turn for the worse when we over-served ourselves and Jon got a little wild and the sun started sinking.
He’s always been a wild Indian, he’ll tell you that any day. That vibrance might be the best part of his personality, but it comes at cost. We roared up and down hills so steep it seemed were doing nothing but sliding, praying not to topple over. I couldn’t shake the image of us rolling end over end all the way down, the impossibility of ambulance, the threat of danger. I hate feeling that way. The giddy recklessness of girlhood was chased out of me in my teens. I don’t like to hurt.
When Jon started blind jumping over trails at eighty miles an hour, I’d had enough.
“Let me out,” I cried, fumbling for my seatbealt, but he refused and raced over the jump. Three times we did this. Every time, our vehicle tilted so steeply that the beams of its headlights fell away beneath us as we shot forward in the darkness.
We landed hard enough to meet his approval and he wheeled us around to an overlook. We were alone. He looked at me triumphantly. I pulled off my goggles. Didn’t bother hiding the tears that sprang to my eyes.
“You didn’t like that?” he cried.
“Because I don’t trust you.” And let that hang there.
Finally he asked why, and I recalled a time last summer when he’d been in a similar mood, drinking and racing the ATV around in the darkness around seventy or eighty miles an hour, and he hit the blunt edge of the asphalt for the country highway that cuts through our farm and threw me out of the ATV, dragging me screaming twenty feet down the pavement before he noticed and stopped. I had no choice but to climb back in and keep going. I was in hysterical tears. We hardly ever talk about that night. Days later he admitted, “Kinda scared me,” but he hasn’t changed.
We sat on the overlook in huffy silence and I thought about how I sometimes wished he considered me either more precious and worthy of cautious handling, or that I could face my own life with the recklessness with which he treated his own.
I thought about how nice it would be sometimes to be something different, something other than myself, braver perhaps, and I wondered if Jon ever felt the same, if he ever wished there was changeablity in me, or if he wished I were someone else completely, someone somehow better suited to him.
I looked at him and he looked at me, the birthday soured, and with a heart heavy as creek gravel it struck me, once again, how mysterious we always are to another person, how irrelevant such mystery is in relation to any love you might feel. The bones of ourselves are so unknowable.
The rest of the night passed without us able to say anything unaccompanied by sting. It was a shitty start to his forty-eighth year. One hopes it gets better. This morning we were solemn, our kiss goodbye was a frank and puckered thing that I would bite back for the rest of my life if it was our last. I think about that often with Jon, about the capacity of accident or loss. It’s hard not to when the person you love is so negligent to his own mortality. When they are aging. When time passes so persistently.
I thought about how, when my grandmother died, I learned at her bedside that the deceased husband had been a ferocious womanizer and a drunk, though in later years she spoke of him with nothing but love.
“That’s the wonderful thing about loving someone,” Jon told me when I recited the story to him, months ago. “All the bad stuff just falls away in the end.”
The funny thing is, he’s right.
Most days, at least, I pray that he’s right.