Karen Rivers

on returning from the island: weeds & writing.

Karen Rivers

"There is only one of me," you find yourself saying more and more.   "There is only one of me and so I can't _____."  

Fill in the blank with the word of your choice.   Pick "weed" or "write" or "play".



When I look back on this blog, I'm afraid what I'll find is a litany about weeds and laundry and all the things left undone.  I'm genuinely not as unhappy as I'm concerned that I sound.  In a way, it's almost funny.

Did I mention that the weeds in the front border are topping out at seven feet high?  They are beginning to die of natural causes.  I think I fooled them:  They never thought I'd have the patience to just wait them out and let the sun do the dirty work. 

Also, the floors need mopping and the novel needs writing.

I don't know how other people do all the things.

If I was going to write an essay called "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" it would not be read in front of the class.   Let's say this:  It is not Pinterest ready.   

We stood on a sandstone shore and watched a pod of whales making their way south, towards the salmon run.   That's always magical, although even that was marred this year.  The aggressive whale watching boats, nosing their way into the group, spilling toxins into the water while the whales valiantly tried to continue on, celebrities hunted by a tourism-paparazzi who know no boundaries and answer only to their desire for a better photograph.   It used to be that you could hear the whales blowing, but now even that is drowned out by the hum and roar of the boats' engines.

The whale population is thinning, dead bodies washing up onto the shores.

We found a dead seal, neatly decapitated, being carried along by the tide, rolling helplessly against the rocks before being pulled back out again to sea.  

The Bun fell off a rock and screamed the f-word, which ricocheted around in the cave we were in and reminded me that my mothering skills were not exactly up to snuff.

I tried to photograph the moon-rise across the Salish Sea.   Behind me, on the hill, my kids taunted each other and pinched.  Someone rolled by my foot in the darkness.   The tripod fell. 

Spoiler:  I did some shouting.   


From the cabin, there is hardly any cellular signal which is both freeing and confining.  I made notes on the tiny yellow lined "notes" app on my iPhone while hiking through a valley of nettle and sawgrass.  When the sky cleared, I emailed them to myself.   The emails say the following: 

lips like a shiny Beetle 

The cave closed in on him, coffin-heavy, and before he could stop himself he was scratching at the floor like a dog, trying to make the space bigger, or at least big enough that he could breathe.  

His dad was like a black Donald Trump, replete with bad hair and skyscrapers and an irrational love of having his name splashed out in lights.  The King called his dad's wives by their numbers.  Seven was awful.  Six was still the one he liked best.  She was a good egg, he said.  Rich people all edge over into briticisms when they are trying to be subtly braggy.  It's like a code, written in the kind of handbook that gets tucked into cradles with newborn royalty along with perfect stuffed bears and implicit happiness.  I guess The King didn't get the last gift.  Everyone just assumed that he had so no one remembered to repackage it and try giving it to him again when it became apparent that he was actually sad.

"Hi" she said.  Her eyes went up and down me, taking me in.  I waited til she was done.  Then I looked at her bare feet on the marble floor.  They were dirty.  There was sand in her toes, her polish was chipped.  She was a mess.  I could smell salt water and the way she was nervous.   Finally, I cleared my throat.  She flinched. "Hi " I said back, my voice as sticky as caterpillar feet.  I cleared my throat and tried again.  "I can't believe you're here."

"Je suis desolee", as the French would say, knowing better than us that "I'm sorry" doesn't have the same kind of meaning as "I am desolated".

If you stick all those sentences together, you'll know what the book is about.   Also, that is what two weeks work looks like sometimes.

I think the people who take thousands of photographs of their children are the people who want to rewrite their kids' memories (and their own?) such that everything is a happier, shinier, funnier, better.  And by "the people", I mean "me".  

You can't photograph swearing anyway.   And you don't photograph a child's stubborn refusal to get ready to go to the beach already because seriously everyone is waiting for you and there is no reasonable explanation for why you are sitting on the ground holding your swimsuit in your hands squinting off into the middle-distance with an expression of perplexed disdain.  There are no pictures of your kids tantruming at dinner, of course, of how they simply just left, marched out through the slidiing door while three adults shouted "CLOSE THE DOOR SO THE MOSQUITOES DON'T COME IN!" and then murmured, "What is wrong with him NOW?" looking at you as though you held the answer and were just choosing to keep it a secret.  

And, after all, no one sees that moment when your child calls your mother an idiot and the word hangs there in the air between them like a crow, black and spiteful, waiting to see what you will do next. 

It is always your job to rid the room of unwanted birds.  The trouble is, they are hard to catch.

You teach your children the Japanese word for idiot, because it sounds better, and then you wish you hadn't, because really, it sounds just as bad. As it turns out, it's not the word that's the problem, it's the hate-laced tone in which the word is delivered, a slice of poisoned pie, fit for a king.

Speaking of kings, one was born while we were away.  

And so?

When we are on the island, the whole world is a million miles away and everything that occurs on the news feels like something that someone who was napping describes upon waking up:  too detailed and patently uninteresting to the listener, although interest is always feigned.   That's a fair exchange, right?  Because you want the speaker to listen to your next dream, nodding in agreement when you say that you believe the antelope grazing on shruberry that's growing in the supermarket means that you feel overwhelmed by life, most especially the godforsaken garden and the novel, both of which need to be edited.



Always after being on vacation, when you come home everything feels stale and off.  In this case, mould was growing in the dishwasher and the lily in the living room died.  It takes days to feel like the air in your house is, once again, at the correct proportion for inhaling.  You drink too much coffee and feel jittery.  The laundry breeds and multiplies into mountains.  You buy groceries and mow the lawn.  A wasp stings the end of your nose.   They're nesting in the ground everywhere, making you feel entirely outnumbered.  (Which, of course, makes you think again of the whale, trying for salmon and ending up being chased by a platoon of photographer-filled hovercrafts.)  The wasps rise from pencil sized holes in the ground, casually threatening by simply being present. They have a right, after all.   It's a free country.   

You sit in your white writing chair with the outdoors behind you instead of all around you and you try to remember how to pull sentences from the chaos and arrange them on a page.   The skin on your hands is wrinkled and brown from being outside for days, as dry as the parched front border where the weeds lean.   Outside, the clouds slide over the blue summer sky like a curtain closing on a scene.  Somewhere, someone is clapping.   A standing ovation.  The thunder of all those hands slapping together tapering off slowly into a splattering of mid-summer rain on the window at your back.  

You let the puddles become ideas which become sentences and you forget to look at your hands, reading your story instead as it unfolds on the screen.  

"Are you?" she said.  Then she stopped and pushed her hair back, winding it up behind her head, somehow knotting it into some kind of a bun.   Everything she did looked like she was performing it.  "I mean, are you OK?  Obviously not.  But."   In the next pew over, Six was crying for real, her shoulders shaking.   Seven's lips were set in a straight line, as flat as a table top.  She was, for some reason, staring at me.   The King's dad looked stoic.   Stoic was all wrong for this occasion.  Asshole.

"Je suis desolee," I said.  

That was the last thing, I guess.  The last words I actually spoke.  Daff's lips were like a shiny Beetle, too round and too red.   Red was too festive for a funeral.   Red was parties and laughing and sloppy, drunken make-out sessions.   Red was a lie.  That was when I started to hate her.

"Everything sounds better in French," she said. "Desolated.  It's a better word than sorry."

That was when it all became her fault.  

I walked away, so I don't know what she said next.  If you care so much, you can go ahead and ask her yourself. I got up and left the church, the heavy wooden door swinging shut behind me, pigeons all over the front stairs that flew up like ashes into the grey, rainy sky.

So I missed the funeral.  My best friend's funeral.  What kind of person does that?

Well, me.  I do.  I guess I'm a worse person than his dad, after all.  I'm the bad guy.

I did it.

It was me.