There are some things I must keep for myself. We all need secrets to harbor, kept down in the pits of the body, filling up the stomach lining. A name that goes unspoken from here until eternity. Lips that will never part for fear of what will be unsaid. Reticent whispers.
I made my way to the garden today. Can you imagine that? Gardening in February? It hasn’t rained here in Portland in almost four days, that has got to be a record, or at least it feels like a record. I dug my fingers deep into the soil, pulling up root systems, some minuscule, one by one. It felt good to extract something, like pulling marrow from a bone. Some of the weeds were beautiful, delicate green leaves with a tiny white bead of a flower sprouting out of the center, but out, out they must go. Removing something pervasive takes persistence. The things you most wish to be rid of regrow under the cover of winter or through the dark of night.
I found a skeleton of a leaf body. Paper thin and waxy, it looked like a decomposing dragonfly wing. I stopped to take a picture. I love photography for its ability to stop time. I wish we lived in a world that wasn’t ruled by clocks. I make it a point to wake up when my body says to, though this morning I woke up when my dog Roxy was having a good dream and wagging her tail and it beat the bed near my body. Thump, thump, thump. I grabbed her tail to silence it, but the damage had been done. I crawled from bed and a weird dream that I care not to remember. We can’t all have dreams as sweet as dogs.
I am not doing much of anything today. Earlier I took a shower. A shower can be a feat. You don’t know what tired is until you know what chronic illness I-took-a-shower-and-now-I’m-tired tired feels like. During the middle of the shower, I had the urge to go back through a middle-grade novel I stopped working on months ago when I got sidetracked by my own body and the pain it was causing me, and I had all but thrown in the towel. I thought, Yes! Today I will go back and read through everything I’ve ever written, and then I will write at least one thousand words. But by the time I sat down on the couch to put on socks and clean my glasses, I couldn’t get up again, and the mood passed.
I skipped class. I am practically a dead body today, I wrote my professor, and dead bodies don’t make very good students. That’s what I get for having an extra good long day yesterday. I almost fell asleep in my night class yesterday, but it was a feel-good moment. Like I had done good work, though really, I hadn’t done any work. Three nights ago, I left in the middle of another night class. I didn’t know I was going to do it until I was up standing at the professor’s desk asking a question during our break when next thing I know I said, “I am not doing okay. I am going to go home.” Then I walked over and began packing my backpack with all my supplies and when I got outside to walk the distance to my car all the lights that line the campus and the parking lots were out for some reason and everything was so hidden in shadow that the presence of the tall cedar trees frightened me.
I can’t write about the reason why I left class. I can’t put a word after a word after a word. I can’t say that a man who I used to love more than I loved myself sent me a message out of the blue that shook something old and dead down inside of my body. I can’t say how the girl I used to be unburied herself from the lining in my esophagus, choked air from my lungs. I can’t say how good it felt to know that the boy who destroyed me was now a man who couldn’t forget me, a man who had been spending his life asking forgiveness from the sky and the moon. I can’t say that, not even for a moment, did I want to respond. I can’t say that bile, or was it guilt, didn’t rise up my throat until it spilled off the tip of my tongue when I confessed to my partner of over six years, Andy, that this man had reached out to me to apologize for everything, though I didn’t respond, and never would. I can’t say it wasn’t a big deal, or that I am not haunted. I can’t say. I can’t say. I can’t say.
I came home and started reading an amazing book called The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I wanted to watch The Notebook, but I didn’t. I wanted to cry for decisions that had to be made in another lifetime, or cry for the people we lose as we age, so often those people are ourselves. But I didn’t. Nicole Krauss wrote, “The words of our childhood became strangers to us—we couldn’t use them in the same way and so we chose not to use them at all. Life demanded a new language.” Yes, I thought as I laid next to my partner and our two dogs in bed. “Yes,” I said as I pulled my pad of sticky notes off the nightstand and marked the passage in my book. Too many words have passed since the day that I left. I am speaking a new language.
The garden was filled with dead and crumpling leaves. I gathered them into piles and disposed of them. I noticed the moss underneath my knees and removed my green gloves. I spread my fingers wide inside the moss, pressing my fingertips down and then pulled my hands back up. I watched as the imprint quickly evaporated. But maybe the moss will keep that memory too, what the pressure of my skin is like.
The chives are sprouting little green nubs, and the rosemary hasn’t changed one single iota over winter; she continues to be imposing and strong. Salvia is alive but not yet red, and oregano leaves begin to creep across the topsoil, and lavender maintained her purple heads, and columbine is unfurling leafy yellow-green tendrils, and Sweet William has a few decrepit sprouts. Lemon thyme is trying to overtake the whole village winding and threading its way while twisting its gnarled roots into a spiral formation, but she smells so sweet I might let her suffocate all the others, just for that crisp scent. I rubbed a couple of her leaves between my fingers and have been periodically smelling them as I write. When I worked to remove my knees from the damp bed of grass and moss I had to grab the mailbox to steady my already stiff and aching bones. Twenty-eight sure feels like seventy some days. Andy will be on his way home soon, and I can’t say that I don’t love him a little more each day. But that is just another secret I do not speak.
Shilo Niziolek is an Oregon based writer. Her work has appeared in Porter House Review, Broad River Review, SLAB, Litro Magazine, Oregon Humanities, among others and is forthcoming in BARNHOUSE and New Plains Review. She has twice been awarded residencies with the Spring Creek Project in Oregon. Shilo is currently a candidate for an MFA in fiction and nonfiction from New England College.