I am painting this scene because I can't capture the particular mood I am in any other way. The mood I am in involved moss, antler, black coffee, men's underwear, and something not quite loneliness, perhaps solitude. I miss Jess in a way that I hadn't noticed before I could see her walking around my little house, talking about the differences between American and British supermarkets.
My truck is larger than one of those Tokyo pod hotels. Seven Japanese business men could sleep in it. When it is just me and the kids, I feel so bloody American. I am self-conscious about it in the parking lot of Whole Foods, and when I pick Jess up from the airport. We don't need this big truck, yet it feels like we need this big truck. We build things. We camp. I don't explain it. I am a bloody American.
There are things you can't imagine about a person when you read their words, like what they are wearing when they write, or how they take their coffee, or what kind of car they drive. But most things are unsurprising in a surprising way. The most surprising thing about her is that it felt like we spend the weekend together all the time. It felt like someone pressed the "pause" button on a conversation we started a few months ago and when stepped up into my large truck, we hit "play" again.
I don't know if it reflects where I am in my life, or the connection between Jess and I is just different, but I was remarkably unanxious to have her here for an entire weekend. I remember the first time I had coffee with another babylost mother. I was a month out from Lucy's death. My uterus was still hanging outside of my body. My breast dripped milk. My heart slow-danced on my sleeve to maudlin accordion music. I felt like I was on a first date. I emoted some inappropriate vocal responses between giggle and ugly cry. I was still wearing maternity clothes and cringing at babies. My hands shook as we spoke. Occasionally I wept into my latte. It was awkward, but cathartic. I had wanted a few weeks in between meetings to recover and prepare emotionally.
There was nothing maudlin or emotionally taxing about meeting Jess. It was easy in a way that makes me feel so much more easy than I actually am. We just hung out for a few days. We found an ofrenda in a bodega on ninth street in South Philly. We had a tarot reading from a women whose left eye rolled up in to her head right before she nailed something. Mostly, though, she went fishing with a hand grenade. I took her to the Italian Market where the cheese guys at DiBrunos swooned and flirted with her. You could see the gears shifting into another mode around her.
She speaks beautifully. She is stunning. This woman can talk about Shakespeare and gangsta rap as easily as a Pecorino. She really knows all about cheese, just like me. I know about cheese. Let me tell her everything I know about cheese. I have a tattoo of Montgomery Cheddar on my ass. I should show the beautiful British woman my ass.
We went to the art museum. I quietly mentioned if she wanted to see the dead baby picture, and she got excited. "WOULD I?!?"
And we stood in front, and took snapshots of it. We grew solemn and talked about the piece. We briefly discussed if we should get a tourist-y picture of our thumbs up in front of Rachel Weeping. (Come on, that's hilarious!) and a tween girl asked her mother why the mommy was crying, why the baby was laying still and grey as Jess and I walked away. Jess whispered in a perfect dead baby mummy cackle, "Because the baby is dead, Kid!"
I can't explain it. It just was perfect.
I am convinced there is a strange shop somewhere in the world. It is on an alley with junkies and drug dealers loitering about. When they notice us holding hands, they point to a door without a sign. There is a small makeshift shrine next to the door covered with marigolds and moss. The door has a rope of small bells on it. There, they sell small dead things strung on chains, and faux fur vests. They paint your face like a calavera, and pose you in front of 19th century paintings of babies dead from the small pox. The women dress you Nauhatl textile dresses with large chunky belts. You hold a large beeswax candle lit with the end of a cigarillo from the old cowboy photographer waiting for you to stand still. The old Mexican women make cafe con leche for you and add dried flowers to your hair while the mustachioed cowboy photographs you and your bestie from the dead baby world. He looks at the British woman, "How does it feel to be away out here where the wild Injuns grow, Kid?" And he points to me. We laugh, but try to pose with no expression. The women read your palm, and tell your fortune very specifically. She holds up four fingers. "En cuatro semanas, the dog will bring caca into the house." They feed you cannoli and cheese. And you will never want to leave.
When I find that shop, I can post pictures of Jess and I that accurately reflects the weekend, but until then, here is a photograph on top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. We didn't run up them like Rocky. That is the magic of the internet. We just made it look that way.
* That is from Benjamin Capps' book The Trail to Ogallala.