I have to stop telling people how I am just because they ask. My answers sound as if I’ve forgotten the social contract. I serve up a litany of woes instead of answering “pretty good!” or “hanging in!” or “so lucky every day!” – everything with a smile. 

Yesterday I dashed out to the farm to collect our share of sun-ripened tomatoes, lettuce, basil, zucchini (always zucchini), cukes and eggplants from the farm shed. A friend I haven’t seen in years strolled out of the flower field, her 20 allotted stems in one hand, trimming shears in the other, a smile stretching across her face as she noticed me. “How are you?” she asked. 

Yes, haze from the wildfires compromised the sky’s potential for blue but our air quality has remained decent and ashes did not adorn the car this morning; I did not need to ramble on about how stupid summer was, every river trip canceled due to smoke or fire or drought, as if my need to leap from a hot day into cool water was the point of a river’s existence, as if it was on par with the fish gasping for life and the people fleeing with whatever they could carry unsure what they might return to. 

I did not need, while palming a basket of cherry tomatoes sweeter than candy, to go on about how the pain in my hip has curtailed my beach walks, remembering only later that my friend has taken on caring for family members who will require far more than a couple ibuprofens and a solid yoga session to heal. 

I did not need, when another friend waved at me – her delight at seeing me as grand as the sunflowers towering around her – to answer her query about my new job with a monologue on the ineptitude of bureaucracy. 

I drove away, bag of veggies and flowers tucked behind the seat of my perfectly functioning car, the combined miracle of Bluetooth and iPhone and music app offering catharsis in the form of any song in the world I might want to hear. I considered pulling over, texting my friends sorry for exuding negativity, for failing to be a source of light and cheer. Seeing me should make someone’s day better, I think, and not in that way of, “Wow, at least I’m not her.” 

And I want to tell them the deeper reasons this kvetching version of myself has taken over. I want to explain that someone I love like my own breath is nearly lost to me and yet the world goes on despite my fears and tears and I don’t know what to do and everyone says I’ve done everything I can and that I have to wait for her to help herself and okay, I get it, but fuck fuck fuck even if my brain understands, how the hell is my heart supposed to live with that? And this is why, I want to say, the excessively complicated administrative procedures are undoing me – my coping skills have been rubbed away like brakes on a steep mountain road. 

And yes, I long for the river because pleasure and also wanting to untether my aching hip from gravity and to disconnect the forests from that which is causing them to burn. And because I have not had a drink in 75 days. (My research suggests I’m experiencing post-acute-withdrawal-symptom as characterized by low enthusiasm, tiredness and variable concentration.) 

I’m so sorry. I do not want the whiskey I crave and I ache to feel the sun on my back and admire how clearly the pebbles glisten below the water. I want to toss berries into my mouth without worrying about the worms that may be sliding around. I want to breathe in the grandness of the trees, to answer the voice of the world calling to me.

I pull into my driveway, the house that is everything I ever wanted waiting for me, and I still think I should text my friends, but I don’t. I just resolve to do better, to be less disappointing, to find a therapist, to do more journaling, less talking, to hand off my anxieties to the worry doll who lives by my bed.

Sunflowers and dahlias glow like morning in the vase where I’ve arranged them. Fresh basil radiates from my uplifted hand. A cherry tomato explodes in my mouth like a kiss from a god.