Karen Rivers

Green Things and Other Fears.

Karen Rivers

I was chopping Brussels sprouts and the smell was so green and familiar, it made me think of my Granny’s yard and the boxwood hedge and the raspberry plants that exploded with fruit all summer long. You know what else though? Those sprouts smelled like caterpillars in trees in the spring, big horrifying nests of them writhing up there, the men threatening to burn them down. “It’s the only way,” they’d say, their eyes lit up by the potential blaze. I started thinking about how those caterpillars would drop down on their long, singular silky strands and land in our hair and how we would frantically claw at our scalps, trying to find them, to get them off of us. And how their little suction-cupped feet, how they’d stick to our hands, the terror bringing goosebumps to our skin, while we shrieked. What were we so afraid of anyway? I mean, I remember what it was like to be terrified by something tiny and insignificant and, let’s face it, harmless, but it’s been a very long time. Now I’m afraid of climate change and how we are all filled with plastic particles so small, you can’t really see them, you can believe they aren’t there, because that’s nicer. But it’s in our tissues and our bones and one day we’ll stop disintegrating altogether like the rest of the mess we made. I’m scared and I’m sad and I ache from the way that racism and sexism and misogyny and bigotry have exploded to the surface of everything, everywhere, this thing like a monster that’s been lying low for a while but now is playing on all our TVs, getting the name of the town that’s burning wrong, making jokes, talking about raking as though this is all a punchline to something, but it isn’t. People are dying. People died. People will die. I’m sick about how kids in America are being shot in their desks, protected only by clear backpacks as though it was only the packaging that was the problem. Where are my phobias? You know what? They’re gone. Gone. Where they used to be, there’s just a nothingness, like the white noise machine in my hotel room that drowned out the traffic in the Costco parking lot across the street. I miss being scared of heights and horror movies and flying and sharks, but specifically only Great Whites and Tigers, who are known to be so indiscriminate in their tastes that they’ll even eat license plates. Now I’m only phobic about if I’m going to be able to pay the mortgage next month because they say “Do what you love and the money will follow!” and I’m trying so hard to do what I love in spite of the way the world is both literally and figuratively on fire. It’s just life that’s sometimes a lot, sometimes doesn’t let you come up for air, even when you’ve been holding your breath for weeks, months, years. My kids are constantly swimming upstream and there are bears, fishing, so I have to be ever vigilant. The weeds are trying to reclaim my house for their own. I beat them back, but I wonder if I should just leave them to it, if the weeds can figure out better than I can, if they can pay the bills the bills the endless bills. What I’m trying to say is that I’m doing what I love but the money isn’t following as steadily as one might want to maintain things as they are, but so what? I love what I do. I love it. I do. I’m lucky. And so. Then. What next? What if? Everything starts with a what if, that’s what I always say, and it’s true. What’s also true is that everything is hard sometimes and I wish it were easier for me for you for everyone but for dinner we are having roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup and yams with a side of mashed potato and gravy because when the food is heavy in our stomachs and the rain is falling on the skylight and the dogs are snoring gently, tufts of their hair moving around the floor in the draft from the fireplace, we are safe we are safe we are safe for now. I used to hate Brussels sprouts, but now I crave them, the dense sweet awful richness of them, the cabbage-y crunch. It’s like eating my childhood, my dad saying, “Karen has to eat one! No one can leave until Karen eats a sprout!” and all of us laughing and me making that face, but chewing chewing chewing until it was gone, relieved to have it over with for another year, knowing that next year would be the same, thinking things would always be like that, that our lines would be the same in that scene forever and ever, amen.