Part of my visual memory seems to be lacking: until this Spring, I do not remember seeing the swath of sepia that lies in between the bright budding green, pink and white trees and magenta rhododendron bushes on one side of our yard and, on the other, vibrant lime green; buds so full they obscure the branches of fruit trees Jim planted; buttercup dandelions scattered around like stars in the constellations Jim knew so well.
Beyond that antique-linen swath of land, a plum tree Jim planted when he was sick and which bore no fruit last year has burst into full blossom despite the absence of adequate rain or minimal gardening care.
Just to the side of this strip of a seemingly dead and alien landscape, lemon-orange-streaked cream daffodils I did not know my husband had planted are in full bloom under the leaning quince tree.
Demarcating this earthen median are clusters of formerly forest-green ornamental bushes that have turned the color and prickly texture of hay. They are joined by the watered-down-tea-colored ghosts of flowering bushes I remember bursting with lilac-blue in past years.
This strange colorless strip of land is something I cross several times a day, as I take the beagles in and out into the field where they never tire of chasing spring scents.
The strip may be just an artifact of the absence of rain, or my lack of diligence and skill in outside maintenance. But evidence suggests otherwise: the grass on both sides remains green and all too lush, bountifully scattered with tiny violet and yellow sprouts.
Perhaps these particular colorless plants in between are more exquisitely susceptible to last season’s record heat.
Or it could be a trick of my memory. Maybe this particular constellation of plants does not bloom until far later than the others, and might someday be restored to something along the color spectrum. But I simply cannot envision these straw stalks turning to green any more than I can imagine them being spun into gold.
And the drooping fragile rice paper-thin shells of a few remaining flowers seem ready to let go. They look as if they have been pressed for a century between a book’s pages. It seems inconceivable that they could rejoin their colorful neighboring flowering plants.
The Poisonwood Bible, one of many books Jim passed on to me, and I in turn passed on to one of our children, has multiple references to stepping forward into the light. That’s what I find myself doing every day: I cross the broad threshold from which all the color has seeped out, as I am launched by the beagles from the color and light outside our door and across the barren sepia sweep and back into spring again on the other side.
As Jim would have told me, in remarking upon one of my transparent dreams, “You don’t have to be Doctor Joyce Brothers to figure that one out.” (It was a mildly-updated Sigmund Freud reference, at least as of the 80s.)
Pain may be uniquely unsuited to metaphor, but death–being outside any writer’s or speaker’s experience–perhaps can be described by nothing but metaphor: crossing over, pushing up daisies, closing one’s umbrella (fermer son parapluie), avoiding “parca’s creaking scissors.” One’s pet parrot might appear to be pining for the fjords, while in fact its “metabolic processes are now ‘istory,” “e’s off the twig” and he has “joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.”
We’ll just never know how much of a stretch each metaphor may be.
I know Jim didn’t want me to be stuck in the place I am now: dwelling in the no-man’s-land, unable not to stop and tarry there without literally being pulled forward and into the light.
“You’ll get through this,” I hear my husband saying to me, referring to his own death– worrying for us, not for himself.
I can also hear the voice at the end of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel: “Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will . . . . Think of the vine that curls from the small square plot that was once my heart. This is the only marker you need. Move on. Walk forward into the light.”
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon