Into Open Hands by Steven Crandell
The palm trees shivered, then shook in fits brought on by the bitter wind. As I walked, I imagined the trees toppling and crashing to earth, flattening anyone beneath them.
Me, for instance.
It was hard to be morbid while living in paradise. But if anyone could do it, I could. Here in Santa Barbara, grey-green mountains stopped a few miles before reaching the Pacific Ocean. This geological restraint provided a small temperate plain perfect for stucco facades, red-tile roofs and verdant exotic gardens. The wealthy came here to relax. The famous, to play. Beauty danced in the eyes of all beholders. Despite this, even in this halcyon land, you could find death anywhere you chose to look.
In fact, right now, avocados are freezing on their stems, three-quarters of the citrus crop had been lost, and winter strawberries had been wiped out en masse. The weather was lethal.
And I was depressed.
I covered up, of course. I told people I felt “down” because it sounded like my problems were merely directional. It sounded like I had the wherewithal to change. “Up” is just a button away from “down” in an elevator. You control your own movement. Depression, by contrast, is the absence of movement. Picture a basement with no apparent exit.
One hears that the first step to change is to recognize the problem. But what if the problem — when thoroughly analyzed, both subjectively and objectively, when researched from every angle, when examined in micro, macro and mock-cro — was simply insurmountable. What if the more you looked at your misfortune, the bigger it looked. What if every step back you took to get perspective left you in greater awe of the breath-taking disaster that your life had become.
Santa Barbara Independent, September 15: “Two girls, aged 4 and 7, and a 38-year-old woman believed to be their mother, died after a car ran head-on into an oak tree just off Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley. No other vehicle was involved in the crash.”
Five months had passed since then, and I was still making regular visits to the big valley oak. No crosses. Nothing like that. I didn’t need a memory aid. Sometimes I sat at its roots and watched the traffic fly by only a few yards away, breathing the dust, feeling the pain of a pebble spat from a furiously spinning wheel. I couldn’t visit their graves yet. I always planned to go, and I always ended up sitting by the big oak. I wanted to think about how they lived. But I was stuck on how they died.
The doctors said my wife had a stroke at the wheel. I argued with them. She was too young, I said. She had little kids. Nobody went around having strokes with little kids, did they?
The first doctor said he was sorry for my loss, but actually, two percent of all middle-aged women did have strokes.
I said that was ridiculous.
The other doctor said she was sorry, too. She added that the latest research said women with waist sizes over 35 inches were at risk.
I told them my wife was wonderfully and perfectly overweight. I said 35 or 38 inches was really quite a reasonable and convenient size, especially as it allowed us to wear the same sweat pants.
Silence ensued. They were waiting patiently for the inappropriate and awkward moment to pass.
Then they showed me the hemorrhaging on the brain scan.
The police estimated the car was going 65 miles per hour when it hit the tree.
The Toyota was totaled. The oak suffered only superficial damage.
It was a Saturday. My running day. I did 10 miles by the beach.
Otherwise, I would have been driving. Otherwise, I could have taken my wife straight to the hospital where they might have been able to save her. Otherwise, my children would still be alive.
I used to say I’d give anything for a little peace and quiet so I could sleep in. The girls rose with the sun. They thought our bed was their trampoline. Jumping over and around and on top of slumbering parental units was deemed a good way to get those units up and making pancakes. Roosters crowed; our girls giggled.
It might sound cute, but mostly it was a pain in the butt.
Then, one day, there was nothing but peace and quiet. I could sleep in on any day I liked. And the peace and the sleep were so empty that I peopled them with my giggling girls and my wife — the people I could no longer touch.
When I closed my eyes at night, I saw their eyes. They were so beautiful. They looked at me benignly, sympathetically, even with a hint of forgiveness. I couldn’t stand it. Nothing was more damning than being forgiven. Even their gentle looks of pity and concern were accusations. And one thing was indisputable, they all seemed to be handling this thing much better than me.
Days sneaked by in slippers and pajamas. Hours lasted forever.
One day, I quit my job. Then, a week or two later, I sublet the condo and started living in my Prius.
Lately, showers had ceased to be a daily thing. I hadn’t cooked a meal in weeks. Basically, I didn’t give a rat’s fig.
When I wasn’t hurting, I felt numb. That was all.
The Santa Barbara sun was shining, but it was low in the sky, and the effect was more artistic than practical. Long shadows stretched from my legs as I shuffled along. The dark spans bent at the retaining wall by the sidewalk and climbed up to the top of the art museum steps even as I moved straight ahead. I bent into the wind and carried on, turning down Anapamu Street towards the main public library.
Hands stuffed in my armpits for warmth, I was walking without a destination. I didn’t even know why I had come downtown. The pink sunset glowed in the sky behind me, haloing my shadow, but this sight held no charm. Instead, I noticed the garbage among the plants, the cracks in the sidewalk, the bums hanging out in the gardens in front of the library. Getting ready for another freezing night, they gathered on low walls that made a square around a patch of grass.
A Lesson from the Road
Our Immortal Souls
Maps and Miracles
Tailing the Blond Satan
Into Open Hands
Drill & Kill
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