..Miriam Nelson-Gillett..


My father worked for IBM in the 1960s so we got to use the IBM Country Club, just outside of White Plains, New York, which we thought of as "the country." He played tennis while my brother David and I amused ourselves for long blissful summer days - I can't even tell you doing what. Those were the summers when I was 4 through 9, David a year and a half younger, good summers.

It was a thrill to drive through the gate when my father handed the guard his pass. We were Allowed into Paradise. There was a grove, a long walkway lined with cedar trees. It led to an empty fish pond. I don't remember if it was always empty, with peeling blue paint that showed the paper-white plaster below, or if sometimes it was filled with dirty water, algae and lilly pads. It mesmerized me. I never knew exactly where it was, just that I had to get there each time. There were a few stone steps steadying the grassy slope and thick bright green-smelling grass. I couldn't see the magic from the outside, but I'd get excited just getting close.

There was one this spot. Right in the middle between the two rows, at the head of the grove. From there the dense green trees splayed out slightly in perspective, evenly on each side. Ahead was bright blue Promise and on the way was a Journey. Each time I went there a portal opened for me. I couldn't save any for later or come back for more, but I could stay as long as I wished. I used to walk the grove slowly, savoring every step. I meandered thought the long column of trees and just after the end, a clearing, then a right turn, downhill, another few steps and there it was, the deserted fish pond so intensely charmed I could barely stand the waves of vague memory.

I could feel it, a Victorian afternoon and a young woman was here. She was grace itself in her long white empire dress and pointed shoes, her large hat and those eyes - she was dissatisfied, pent, fussed-over and adored, polite and desperate. She sought refuge at that pond too and I knew she was long gone. I never imagined her aging or dying, just gone, but I felt her there as I stood in my red stretch shorts with the blue and white coordinating top, lost in love with a beautiful lady from a quieter time. I felt the garden parties and the betrayals revealed on summer afternoons. When a cloud passed overhead I shivered and had to leave - the underside of this place was too strong for me.

There is something about trees lined up, evenly, facing each other on a thick green lawn. It creates power - the perfection, the mirroring and amplifying. Once I lay down on the grass just to feel it but soon my name wafted through the trees nearly breaking the spell and I ran over to where my mother could see me and hurriedly signaled "be right there." Just a few more minutes of Eternity, Mom.

There's really no separating past, present and future. When I look at my little dog I see the fresh, eager puppy he was as well as the old dog he will become and it breaks my heart. That's their job, to crack our hearts wide open until we can't imagine surviving it. We fall in love with their innocence and protect them and they stay babies for us, clinging, loving, pleasing up until the day they die. They might be in our arms their big eyes pleading, whether for life or death it's hard to tell, or just "Love me, even now." I knew, looking at him at two months old, fuzzy and ecstatic in my lap, that he had me as much as I had him and that I would take care of him for the rest of his life, 15 years if we're lucky. I was 44. I'll lose him by the time I'm 60 and how will I survive that?

I saw my brother die - not the actual moment of passing, but his becoming a dying man at the age of 28. I went to be with him but ran away in the end. He had to face death but I could not face him. I saw in him the little boy sitting with me in the bathtub and younger, in his crib. I saw him looking in the mirror as we stood there in shorts, fascinated by the different shapes of our legs. "My legs are slender," I said of my fat thighs in their hot pink stretch shorts. "Mine are running legs!" said David, his chubby knees looking sturdy and strong.

That was the same day we got to have our picture taken on a pony in front of the apartment building. How a pony just happened to be strolling down 34th Avenue in Flushing, Queens I have no idea. In the picture I'm looking distracted. David is in front of me, beaming. It reminds me of a studio photo with both of us as babies, David sitting in front of me. I'm chewing my lip, he is beaming. We're ages 3 and 1, respectively. I see that bright baby face in him when I see his wedding picture and I see his chemo puffiness and thin straggles of hair, his haunted, frightened confusion and unfathomable loss, all in the same moment. I've never seen childhood pictures of my husband, but I see an old man sometimes when I look at him and my heart grips, wondering if I'll be there to help him through or if I will have gone, leaving him to face it alone.

You have to let your heart break, crack right open, because if you can face death you can face Truth. It's not more true than the joy and safety of youth, or the pride and pleasure of adulthood, it's just that it's on the spectrum and if you block it off you can't let yourself flash on the whole eternal scope. Don't flinch.

There's a bit of the bud in each flower as well as its ending as the petals fall away. That makes it more precious now. Who is to say at what moment blossoming becomes decay? You could say that a woman continues to blossom until the end of her days, that each line is gorgeous as it shows her increasing depth and wisdom. Or that she peaked at 25. It's completely arbitrary. Sometimes a mother will sigh, "my child isn't a baby anymore," as if infancy was the peak of life. Or you could see the whole continuum present in each moment. Don't flinch.

The Collosseum is in ruins but you can still hear the ancient cheers. You can see in a new home the weathering and memories it will retain. The IBM Country Club closed years ago and condos are there now. I wonder if people can feel us when they walk the quiet streets in the evening and stop for no reason to hold on to just another moment of eternity.

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