This past weekend my cousin visited us from Texas. We loosely sketched out a weekend of walks, memorable meals with a few rogue rounds of the word game, bananagrams and multiple trips to local book houses to satisfy our bookworm tendencies. On Saturday morning, as we set off for Haight Street on foot, we happened upon a familiar sight. My husband motioned in that direction to my cousin, “It looks like Thomas slept in today. I want you to meet my friend.” As we walked up to Thomas, first I caught sight of his bare feet, his toes winking hellos up at me from the cushions on the sidewalk. He lit up as we approached and began telling us about his wild escapade of a night, how he had stayed awake until 5 in the morning and how he had seen some real weirdos. His grin still boasts a few teeth jutting from his gums and on this particular morning jaunt, by walking up the sidewalk, we had walked into his house. After a few minutes and checking to see if he needed anything, we departed, leaving him to wake up in the sun, under the tall eucalyptus trees.
Years ago, I worked at a Friday night drop-in center for street youth with my friend Wendy who would later change her name to Renee, and then with Mary. Each Friday night, we would spirit off to the city from Marin county for an evening we looked forward to all week. After sweeping the floors and swapping out the white light bulbs for green or blue, the simple community center would be transformed into a coffeehouse. We would set the food out, sprucing up Starbucks day-old pastries on large silver trays. The coffeemaker would wheeze and sigh as if the anticipation of all the coffee it would need to brew tired it out. Kids from upper Haight or Golden Gate Park, and later, from the Castro would wander into our stylized coffeehouse to settle in for a few hours of Tetris that transitioned into a movie with hot drinks and something to nosh on. At 1 a.m., after we cleared out the coffeehouse and swapped the colored bulbs out for white ones, sweeping down the floors and anchoring the coffeemaker cord to its body for another week, we left the city, awash in snippets of conversation clinging to us like coffee grounds dotting the bottom of a cup. I lived for these few hours each week. There, I found myself come alive, whether talking about art with a kid who toted around his large sketchbook or playing chess with my teacher and philosopher friend who lived under a bridge.
I can remember when it all unraveled and something inside me unhinged. We had closed the coffee house like every other week and I had offered to clean the back bathroom. In the sickly green lit room, I found a splatter on the mirror and a needle in the sink. On the ground, an elastic band rested. I began trying to retrace who might have been in the bathroom that night as if one could really catalog those kinds of actions. I tried to put the idea of all the couches loaded with warm bodies watching a movie on the other side of a room where a kid shot up in his own private hell. I can’t remember when I began sobbing and I can’t remember when I stopped. It broke something inside of me I could not make whole again. Not long after that, I stopped going, using various excuses from the million and one reasons that always seemed to be at the cusp of the periphery with their welcome distractions.
Before I married, before I had any semblance of an idea of who I might marry, I knew that I wanted him to have a heart expansive enough that he could care for homeless friends and be welcoming to wealthy strangers. It might have been a tall order, but Someone was listening to those whispered prayers in the dark. We have celebrated several years now of our own form of wedded bliss, which also means this blog is celebrating several years since its inception in 2010.
And what I want to say is that sometimes you worry about the people you love in ways you wouldn’t think you could worry. You eat your worry by the slice and sometimes you eat it by the whole. Sometimes it eats you.
It may seem silly but if I park near Thomas’ tarp late at night, I say an extra prayer that no harm will befall him. I say it anyway when the cool light of the moon casts its soft glow into our bedroom at night. I eat my worry by the wordful then, finding it wrapped in the vulnerability of a tarp covering with no walls to hold back the ill will of hooligans who skulk around where no light paves a path. The recent past has had me steeping in worry well beyond the last slip of sand or time has fallen in the hour glass. I have been working out my worries kneading gluten with my fists, driving my uncertainties into my palms forming balls that need time to proof. I have been chewing on small things that might banish the worries that can pile up with their own to-do lists. Baking fresh bread has become its own salve and balm for me. I imagine wrapping still warm loaves with their curative properties to give to Thomas and to replace those years of stale coffeehouse offerings for homeless friends who have now moved on.
If I could feed them with words, my pen could pull together strings long enough to bind them with us. If I could feed them with bread, my oven would stay piercingly hot with a misting bottle nearby. Sometimes we worry and we release that worry out into the world, letting it curl into the fog snaking its way toward our homes. We might find that caring deeply for someone does not need to involve worry as if it’s a phantom appendage. We might find that the words we weigh and the bread we bake is enough for today. And in this, we can turn our worry out onto a floured kitchen countertop, poking it with a finger, finding it compliant and not bouncing back, ready to be baked into something life-giving.