My heart is sore, my eyes and throat red and raw, but I am breathing easier than I have in days. The sky is a brilliant blue, clouds lofty, cumulus and white. Pink buds are opening on the plum trees.
Last month, Balboa and Packer arrived, all the way from the Village of Jasper, to spend the winter holiday with us at the lake in the Sierras. It has been wonderful having them here. We knew of their visit, but they surprised us with Balboa's swollen belly and grins so wide we thought their faces might break.
Balboa wanted her child to be born in Ordinary, where she was born, where Cheyenne and I were born, and Ruby, and grandmothers going back on one side or the other for longer than anyone can remember.
Her fathers, Beryl and Ronnie, surprised us further by tagging along, so we were all here, the whole family except for Jasmine, our oldest, who has been across the ocean with her husband and daughter so long.
Packer loved the forests of the Sierras. He said, yes, he could spend a few years here, learning the ways of this land and its creatures, and so they will stay, raising their young one. Bliss.
Then, two days ago--can it be only two days ago? It seems like a century--Jacob came to the door. Something is wrong with Balboa, he said. She is crying, and she hurts. Another time, I might have asked how he knew, but Jacob seems always to know when someone in the village is suffering.
We rushed to the guest house, Cheyenne and I. Jessica, the midwife, had already called for the regional physician, Bettina. "I think we're going to lose the baby," she said, her face grim. "Bettina will know whether there's anything more to be done, or whether, at nearly five months, we can save the child."
But it was not to be. Perhaps the physical agony of premature labor took Balboa's attention from the emotional pain for a few hours, but I cannot take comfort in such speculation. She would not speak afterward, nor would Packer, or if they did, I do not know to whom.
Packer took off to the hills, striding away on his long legs, his boots leaving deep marks on the moist path around the lake. Last night he returned with a small, moss- and lichen-covered log. He had cut the log in half lengthwise and hollowed out the pith, then lined it with beautiful green and gray mosses. He must have climbed very high in the trees to get so much clean, new moss. Cheyenne had begun a quilt for the baby the day they arrived, and Balboa asked if she could wrap the tiny body in the unfinished square.
"Seems right, don't you think?" she said, her sad eyes soft in the light from the partially covered window.
So we washed and wrapped the lifeless darling and kissed it. Balboa held her and crooned a lullabye I didn't know she remembered and handed her to Packer, who placed her in the log. He'd attached the top half ingeniously with a leather hinge the length of the log. Painstakingly, he laced together two additional strips of leather, each attached to one piece of the log, top and bottom. When he pulled the laces taut, the leather was almost entirely inside the log, and so it was sealed.
Packer carried the tiny coffin, remnant of the life-cycle of the forest, and we walked, the village, all of us, even Balboa, to Strawberry Hill. We buried the baby, whom Packer and Balboa decided to call Mira, in the heart of the cherry orchard, where just last fall Sena and David and I had dragged out the stump and roots of the oldest tree, dead after more than seventy-five years of bountiful service, and prepared the ground for planting.
Rains had come before we could plant the new sapling, but today the ground was perfect. So we buried Mira and planted a brand new cherry tree next to her grave.
I do not know why Balboa must suffer like this, why Packer must suffer, and all of us who love them so. There is no way to explain these things. But Sena knows, and Jacob, and Betty, and anyone who gardens or works with animals knows that nature, so bountiful in her gifts, so free with her burgeoning life, is also about death. Without death, there would be no decay, and without decay, no new life springing forth.
And life does spring forth. Always. Everywhere. It is impossible to keep it down.
And so, once again, I sit breathing.
We are strong women, Ruby, Cheyenne, Balboa and I. We have known sadness before. We will know it again. I would take this sorrow, this body memory from Balboa if I could, for her heart is broken, and she cannot speak to me of it, perhaps speaks to no one of it.
I cannot bear to see my child suffer.
Nor can I take this from her.
And so I pray.
And I breathe.
Cool air in.
Warm air out.
I give gratitude for the strength of my body, for the strength of my mind, for passion and compassion, for life that will not be put down.
I give gratitude for the strength in Balboa and Packer, for the strength of their love, for the strength of all who love them.
I give gratitude for time that will dull the pain, can dull the memory of pain, once healed.
I give gratitude for breath.
May you be free
May you be happy
May you be at peace
May you be at rest
May you know we remember you*
*Alice Walker from "This Was Not an Area of Large Plantations: Suffering Too Insignificant for the Majority to See" in We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For