Because of you, in gardens of blossoming
Flowers I ache from the perfumes of spring.
I have forgotten your face, I no longer
Remember your hands; how did your lips
Feel on mine? [...]
I have forgotten your voice, your happy voice;
I have forgotten your eyes.
Like a flower to its perfume, I am bound to
My vague memory of you. [...]
I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to
Glimpse you in every window."
The crop sprayer, looking like a overgrown bug ready to devour little cars, moved slowly down the street, and we dutifully took note as Illinoisans should. John Deere green seems to sprout up everywhere this time of year. Without a thought, I remarked to anyone listening how noble it is to be a farmer. How hard working they are, with dirt under their nails, calloused hands, beat up bib overalls, and a hat advertising some insecticide brand. How they never really know, from year to year, what the end result will be. Their entire profession is based on faith and hope. If heavy rains or sudden drought destroy half their fields, then that corn or those soybeans they expected to glean is lost. Other years, they may have an abundant harvest, with shimmering golds thrown high into the combine and poured into tall, lonely silos. Millie said, "It must be sad to be a farmer." "No," I told her, "Some years are good and some are not, but they have one of the most important jobs." I listed off a dozen ways we all benefit from their work, and both kids chimed in with more examples. We saw a rusty tractor bumping through some acreage after that, and watched in quiet reverence.
A few days before, I glanced out at the endless miles of farmland flickering past our car. We were on the way home from an afternoon out and a McDonald's dinner. At the shop, a lady smiled and told me she loved my lipstick, a light berry shade to contrast with the black I'm always drawn to wear. For the briefest moment, I wondered if I should tell her. Should I describe the four hours it took me to move from my bed to the closet, the overwhelming feeling of picking out a shirt, or the fact that I halfheartedly reached for the closest lip pencil and mascara, and prayed no one I knew would see me? The last few weeks have taken all of my strength, and the fragments that are left are not worth much. I pulled out my debit card, thanked her, and silently resolved to compliment people more often, because it might be the only anchor that holds them to a good moment that day.
I spent this afternoon readying our balcony for all the newness that spring ushers in; moving the potted hens and chickens to our little table, pinching off the crumbing brown leaves to make room for bight green buds. I added a bit of soil to them, showered them in cool water, and peered closely at them as if they would grow before my eyes. There are trees bursting into bloom everywhere in town, the breeze carrying their sugary scents through the air. The daffodils have appeared already, and the grass is looking lush- so many signs that spring is here. We're confident enough, even here in the Midwest, to put up our snow boots and wool coats, trade them in for trenches and rain jackets, and walk the fine line between scarves and sandals. It's a back and forth dance every day, but everything is thawing, getting brighter, and becoming alive.
This spring is different for me. I hold my breath wait for the smallest green dots of cornstalks to appear in rows in the tilled brown-black earth, because I know they'll still be there when he gets home, and they'll be taller than all of us. He and I have a few fond memories of those fields from what seems like ages ago, zooming through old country roads in the little red car he bought when he came home from Afghanistan, both of us intoxicated with the new life we had together, still young enough to feel careless and have a million stories to tell without repeating anything. (If you had told us we'd be introduced to a little girl named Millie a year from those rides, we'd never have believed you.)
The three of us here at home are getting weary. The days have been getting longer, the nights peppered with wake-ups and melt-downs, and easy tasks feel monumental at times. The depression that follows me through life, sometimes walking several paces behind, has caught up now and nearly matches me step for step at times. Millie and Walter ask more questions, about dates and plans and all things unanswerable. Millie cries because he'll likely miss her birthday, and writes him somber letters. We've spent some evenings, long past bedtime, sitting side by side on the floor in my room, backs against the wall. I've stroked her curls as she tells me her heart, and I try to make her believe what I can't. Walter recently carried around a picture of our family most of a day, sitting with me and studying it for a while before asking, "Can Daddy see me looking at him?" The teddy bear he plays every night has some background noise from the store we recorded it in, and he once wondered aloud if his daddy actually sounded like that, or if he sounds like we do. Memories are getting hazy, time is stretching, twisting, and turning, and we are tired.
But spring is insistent. The sun warms our bodies and sweeps us along through the calendar's pages. Soon, there will be swim lessons, popsicles, sidewalk chalk, sweat, and sweet tea. Walter's blonde hair will look even blonder against his skinny tan body, and a few more pretty freckles will be sprinkled over Millie's nose and cheeks. The hope that we have forgotten will climb over our hearts in tall, winding, overgrown vines, until we can't see anything else. Maybe this will have all been a bad dream in the end. We will sprint through vivid daylight, through the firefly laden evenings, through the perfect sunsets over nearly-ripe fields and the deep, damp nights with cicadas calling. We'll run and leave the heartache, the time lost, and the trials in the dust, and wait breathlessly until an airplane touches the tarmac amid blinking lights and tears. We'll wait until he rounds the corner and the fuzzy memories become crystal clear, tangible, kissable, and so sweet. We'll load welcome home signs and heavy green bags into the trunk.