Yes, of course, all my usual suspects were on it: snakes and air travel, fear of getting very sick with asthma when there was no way to get help, claustrophobia, being away from home. The punchline: If I stay afraid of all this stuff, I will stay in my routine, my comfort zone—which at this moment in life is none too comfortable.
The other list was about a man, as my other lists always were, the man who was in Nepal without me, and WHAT HE SYMBOLIZES, as Jonathan’s printing frames it.
The Big Cheese, as I prefer to call Dr. Goudard after all the years we have endured, could easily have written those lists of Jonathan’s, for they were the same old lists I’d dragged around forever. Dr. Goudard’s version would have been penned in beautiful, old-fashioned cursive letters that are almost feminine; I have not known another man with handwriting such as the Cheese’s. But whether set down in block capitals or near-calligraphy, it would be my same old list. Every one of us has one.
I’d needed to tell my story again and again only so that I could ﬁnally hear it. I had been for so many years stuck in the predicament of chronic, repetitive tale telling, with the best to hope for that each successive audience would respond by offering at least one small clue in return, in repayment for my latest dramatic reading—and often for my cash.
MOMENTS OF increasingly horriﬁc, shaming self-awareness—-particularly one that occurred about a decade ago, while I was taking a week off to garden at the little house with my friend Charles—told me how far from all right I had become, how close to all wrong. That loudest of wake-up calls was over a little-known plant called Hylomecon japonicum, an -ephemeral Asian woodlander that sends up poppy-like gold ﬂowers in early spring, then tucks itself back underneath the ground to lie dormant until its name is called again a year hence, asking nothing in the meantime except that you do not forget its hidden presence and accidentally take a shovel to it.
I was in the backyard, hoicking garlic mustard and other unwanted somethings out of the ground to clear a new bed, and then as I passed the front of the house to empty my wheelbarrow in the compost heap beyond, I saw him: Charles, standing by the porch, cutting something into little bits. There was a hole in the moist, cool earth where my precious plant had been; no forensics were required to unravel that he had—without asking—dug up my plant and simply begun slicing and dicing.
I began to shout at Charles, to scream threateningly at this very tall, startled man whom I adore and respect beyond measure—and then I burst into tears that would not stop.
Those were the days when any piece of my puzzle put even momentarily out of place could do it to me: Out of control sent me out of my mind. I could not imagine living without my Hylomecon growing right over there where I had put it; I could not bear the thought of its certain death from dismemberment.
Each year now from late April onward, my eyes are rubbed in a reminder of that day when my precious plant was divided and conquered and then liberated, too: Now the mother of thousands, its progeny positively carpet my place. Set free by Charles from the congested spot where I’d let it languish and suffer, diced up to discard any tired, woody bits and favor the tender green parts instead, each piece then had some room to spread its roots and ﬂourish—a little scary at first, being yanked up out of the earth, but all for the best. Thank you, Charles; uprooting and even breaking apart are sometimes not so bad after all, and just what’s called for.
I HAD meant to leave my job for so long, I had become the Girl Who Cried Martha, but these patient men (yes, I am aware that most of those I listen to have been men—for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer) all kept listening anyway. Perhaps the only reason I ever ﬁnally made the break: I eventually embarrassed myself so thoroughly, I had nowhere left to go but forward, having run out of places to comfortably theorize about the possibility of doing so.