The Fox at Dawn

1.3.21 The Heron Returns
January 3, 2021, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day | Tags: , ,

Sitting at the dining room table, listening to the Sunday sermon, playing Solitaire, Mr. Darcy’s low growl draws my attention to the window. There he was- a Great Blue Heron standing on the edge of the little fish pond with at least one of my largest goldfish in its deadly beak, bright orange, the only color in the winter gray morning. I make sure I’m muted, race to the door and fling it open shouting and waving my arms. The heron doesn’t drop the fish- oh lord, are there two of them in his beak? Little troubled, the bird opens his massive wings and lazily takes to the sky.  He leaves his calling card- the floating white film of his excrement on the surface of the pond. The other fish are in clear sight at the bottom of the pond, unmoving and undisturbed by the sudden attack. The winter makes them stupid and slow. There they wait to be plucked out of the water and there is little I can do about it. I have tried many things. The herons keep coming and I keep shouting and waving my arms and sometimes I cry. Why do I care so much?

The heron will always eat fish. And I will always hate it.

When I finish teaching my Sunday school classes, I try again. I always do, even knowing what I know. I try again. I haul out the pinwheels, the sparkling string, the tomato cages. The cages- four of them- are turned upside down and placed in various spots around the pond, their leg prongs pointed to the sky. The pinwheels are pushed into the ground around the perimeter and the string is stretched taut from one to the other, crisscrossing the pond. Perhaps when there is wind, the whirling pinwheels will be enough to discourage the Vikings from landing. Perhaps the fish will seek refuge in the tomato cages, the heron unable to penetrate the geometry of wire angles. Perhaps the strings will entangle the intrepid pillagers unconcerned by the other defenses.

It looks ridiculous, of course. A sad little circus trying to look brave and hearty. It’s all I can do, so I do it.  The fish come under my protection, being here in my pond. I am the caretaker here and those winter fuddled fish, orange as traffic cones, are not fair game. There are creeks and a mighty river not a half mile away. There, it is natural that herons should hunt and feed, here, it is pure theft. Tiny murders are still murders after all.

Does anybody ask the fish? This just now occurs to me. I assume that they don’t wish to be skewered and swallowed.  Perhaps it is all for nothing and they care far less than I do. And just how many have I taken under my protection, looked after with care and tenderness, that didn’t want to be there? Never asked to be there? I know at least one. Perhaps you’re reading this now. Yes, you nod your head, there was at least one.

Valentine’s Day

God, will you just shut up-you’re so annoying-I don’t care-No one gives a shit about you-just stop talking, God.

Not fifty words into the morning, my tone carefully modulated to kindness, the land mines start detonating. Getting her ready for school. Trying to get breakfast into her. Blam! another one explodes. EDie walked out of the bedroom door but J is in there somewhere and I know she’s scared. It’s her first week back at school and she is standing at the foot of a mountain. At the top is graduation and she has no idea how she’s going to get there in time. Blam! Another mine explodes.

I don’t care-why don’t you just tube me? I want to relapse- When I go to college, I’m going to relapse- Just shut up, I don’t care. I hate you. Why do you care? You don’t have to care-

On the third morning of this I am unable to check what I am feeling and I find I am crying and having trouble breathing, even as I try to pack the lunch. I’ve only had a few anxiety attacks in my life, but I know it’s gathering steam. Ice on the back of my neck and temples, bear breath, I slow it down. “What are you doing?” she asks with all the contempt she can muster, and I believe in that moment that everything I have done up to now has been a failure, I have, in fact, raised the meanest child on earth.

We do not talk in the car. I drop her off at her school, and then I go to mine. I am hollow and her words echo inside me all day as I teach, and later in the evening as I sit through the monthly Worship Ministry meeting. The theme we are discussing is Transformation.

She is going backwards and there is nothing I can do.

Valentine’s Day was once my favorite holiday. I love making cards for those I care about, I love making small, unexpected treats. When I was a girl, I loved the special heart-shaped apple spice cake my mother made for our Valentine’s dinner, and I glowed with the anticipation of giving and receiving valentines. I was expecting that nothing would be celebrated today. I certainly didn’t feel celebratory. Any gift I might give would be blown out of the sky by the disorder that has commandeered my daughter. Breakfast was silent, but she ate it. No bombs. Then she was angry that I was meeting her for lunch, since eating lunch at school on her own had not been successful- who told you? who told you? she barked. Someone who cares about you very much, I told her. Which was true, a friend of hers, a true friend, has been keeping tabs, letting me know.

After dropping her off, I went home to walk the dogs and make her lunch because I was off from school, officially on Winter Break. My heart sank when I saw the Great Blue Heron in the fish pond. It had been chased off a few days ago, but there it was again and I could tell it had been feasting. I started to sit down on the hill and cry. I can’t even keep the goddamned fish safe, I thought. What’s the use of trying. Then came my second thought- maybe there is no use, but I can’t stop being me and who I am is someone who tries to keep them safe, useless or not. I refuse to stop trying, even if I fail. I took all my bamboo peace flags and the wire tomato cages and erected a ridiculous looking defense system over the pond. It would take some balls to try to get in there again, but if any birds have balls, it’s herons.

J was mad about lunch, but she came out to the car anyway and we drove silently through the park while she ate, listening to a radio program about single older adults and “gray dating” before I self-consciously turned it to music. When finished, she exited the car quickly and ran back into school.

On my way to work at the church, I stopped at Sister Dragonfly, a lovely store in my neighborhood, and I soaked up the love given freely by the two store dogs, Star & Milton, who greet everyone. I bought J a pair of soft, funny knee socks depicting a shark attack. Just in case. I worked a little at my second job, only a little because I literally could not bring my mind into focus, my thoughts kept flitting away, I couldn’t grab hold of them. Maybe this is what it’s like inside her head all the time. It’s really hard to get anything done.

Then the miracle happened. My mother called to say that J had texted her and asked if Mom might pick her up from school so J could buy me a Valentine. I hurried home and made her a card too, and wrapped my silly gift. When she came home, J came to me and gave me a box of chocolates and a homemade card. In it was a beautiful letter, apologizing for the hate, expressing her love, expressing her desire to continue fighting the eating disorder. She wanted to keep fighting, she wanted to keep trying. In the letter was everything I needed to hear. Thank you universe, thank you angels, thank you darling girl. A reprieve. We live to fight another day.

February 15. At dawn, the Great Blue Heron returns to the yard, though perhaps he never left. I just couldn’t see him before first light. He stands there, just uphill from the little fish pond, hoping to repeat yesterday’s breakfast of winter fuddled fish. There he goes, walking, stalking, slowly down the hill, though I know he sees me sitting here at the window, his foe. He has one eye on the fish and one eye on me. I am waiting to see if my defenses hold. It is thrilling.