After they left, a restlessness hit us, and we went our separate ways, searching for our lightning bolt idea, hoping a little bit of Byron’s magic had leaped to us. My mind moved in endless circles, and I wandered through the stalls, not really seeing anything.
“Your boss has got some issues,” a voice said, and it took me a moment to realize it was Mykia. I’d been drawn to her stall, again and again, but I was simultaneously avoiding Lukas.
“Did you give him some dandelion greens to help him out?”
She laughed. “I think he needs some stronger stuff.”
“He’s a stress case,” I agreed.
“I think there’s more to it than that.” She shrugged. “But what do I know? Let’s talk about you. How’s the garden?”
I described the raised beds her men had constructed, the rows of tomatoes, the blackberry bushes. When I got to them, I told her about the metal box and the treasures we found inside.
“Glynnis and Jackie think my neighbor might be a serial killer.” I should have included myself in that theory, but I sensed the story was less tabloid sensational and more plain old human sadness.
“Did you ask him?”
“No! That would be . . . awkward. And anyway, he’s furious I started the garden in the first place.”
“I say ask him. What do you have to lose?”
A secret, I thought. Finders keepers. It felt good to hold something inside that didn’t have anything to do with grief.
Mykia tossed a bundle of peppermint at me. “Make some tea with this. But don’t plant any in your garden.”
“It’s invasive, and you’re not experienced.”
“But I like mint.” I smiled at her. “What would a mojito be without it?”
She shot me a measured look. “You want something else in control of your garden, or do you want to be in charge?”
“Well, when you put it that way.” I found my reusable produce bag and started to fill it with Mykia’s produce. I chose randomly, focused on a variety of colors instead of using my supermarket strategy of planning meals in my head. My sense of smell helped—the sharp tang of onions, the earthiness of asparagus, the childhood-memory-inducing sweetness of ripe strawberries. My grandmother always made shortcake. It was Jesse’s favorite.
“What are you making tonight?” Mykia asked.
“I hadn’t thought of it. Maybe I’ll just mix all this stuff up and call it dinner.”
Mykia paused before saying, “I can come over and help you out. You’ll have to pay attention, though.”
That was usually a problem. Jesse’s death diminished my attention span to zilch. Mykia would get frustrated with me. Why bother?
But then I thought I should try.
Jesse and I were never a social couple. We’d had to lean on each other for so long that we’d gotten used to being a duo. Our uniquely shared history made it difficult to get to know another couple in a meaningful way, and our innate distrust of strangers made it hard to get to know us very well. Sure, we went to school fund raisers, and when Trey was younger, I met up with some of the neighborhood moms for coffee or drinks. Jesse coached Trey’s T-ball team, but Trey’s athletic career was short-lived, and Jesse missed out on most of the bonding rituals of the local dads. He didn’t stop off for a few with the guys after work, and I usually worked late, even on Fridays. When I got into my car after such a long day, it never even occurred to me to head anywhere but home.
Typically, Jesse and I loved being homebodies. We ordered in and rented a movie on most weekend nights, especially after Trey discovered a social life of his own. Once in a while we’d splurge and go into the city in search of some new hot spot Jesse had read about in Chicago magazine. Some might have seen our life together as boring, but we knew how valuable boring was. Like order, boring was safe. We could rely on it.
We were happy together. We lived in a bubble.
But that bubble had burst. I needed to build a new life, and widening my social circle was one way to do it.
I smiled at Mykia. “I get off at five thirty. Do you need help packing up?”
When Trey arrived, trailed by the slim-hipped, bespectacled Colin, we’d already sat down to dinner. Jackie and Glynnis had pitched in, and we had chopped some early potatoes with some green onions and Swiss chard, topped them with some cheddar, and stuck them in the oven. Then we’d fried some bacon I’d found in the freezer and a half dozen eggs Glynnis had bought from the market and whipped some fresh cream to accompany the strawberries, which Mykia had said were on borrowed time.
The boys grabbed plates, their movements awkward, almost shy. For all Trey’s talk of Colin’s rebelliousness, in a room full of women they both returned to boyhood, all jerky limbs and mumbling. Glynnis stood to make room for them at the table, and both boys blushed furiously as they found their places. We ate silently until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“What do you think of the garden, Colin?” I said in his general direction.
Colin finished chewing, a long, laborious process, before he spoke. “Are you having a midlife crisis?” he said, blue eyes boring into me.
“That’s what I asked her,” Trey mumbled.
Colin’s expression was one of anticipation. This one liked to stir the pot.
I thought for a moment. Crisis. What did that really mean? I was in crisis when Jesse died. That was pure existential terror. How did my feelings of meaninglessness and isolation compare to run-of-the-mill, pass-me-a-glass-of-Chardonnay-I’m-in-my-forties anxiety?
I fought my irritation whenever I heard women complain about their fine lines and premenopausal weight gain, about their husbands always traveling for business, and, in this neighborhood, about the high cost of maintaining a summer home while saving for retirement. But they complained without true fear. The aging process didn’t seem nearly as daunting when you had someone to age with. I would never have that. Did that meet the definition of crisis? It was more than that. Like watching your future undergo a full nuclear meltdown, Fukushima-style. The effects threatened to last long after damage control was complete.
“I wouldn’t call it a crisis; it’s more like exploration,” I said to Colin, borrowing a word from his father. “Sometimes people change slowly, because life moves slowly.” I leaned forward, warming to my topic, though there was a definite possibility I was talking out of my ass. “For example, my grandmother’s sight diminished over years and years. First, she squinted at traffic when crossing the street. Then, she got glasses when she could afford them. Then, the doctor upped her prescription every year. Finally, she couldn’t see a thing unless she was wearing her glasses. She adapted to it over time. She kept her glasses on her nightstand, and during the day she wore them on a string tied around her neck. She adapted. She changed. But it was over many years.”
“Seems like an easier way to do it,” Mykia said as she helped herself to more eggs.
“But wasn’t that a necessary kind of change?” Glynnis asked. “Your grandmother had no choice but to adapt. What about change that you choose for yourself?”
I smiled at her earnest desire to understand. “I would argue that all change is necessary.”
“What about Dad?” Trey said, his tone bitter. “Was that a necessary change?”
“We can’t control life and death,” I said. “But we can control how we react to them.”