I’m rugged up and running errands with the Hub. For today’s entertainment, we sit in the parking lot at the drug store and watch two snowboarders bounce on a precipice formed on the ridge of the hill across from our front row parking lot seats. He keeps the car running for our comfort and we watch as the two figures climb back to the top of the ridge. Evidently, the precipice passed the stress test.
The Hub fusses with his camera and gives me a dissertation on how the lens focuses. We no longer have real conversations. I’m with him, but I’m lonely. His abstract thinking is all that remains. That and the pestering need for attention that makes him seem frozen in the terrible twos. His sense of humor was always a high point in our relationship and I never expected it would one day be the most annoying thing about him.
But it also remains the most recognizable aspect too, so I grit my teeth and bear it.
In a flash, the first snowboarder leaps from the ridge, hits the precipice and soars momentarily airborne like someone with Olympic dreams. I think this time of year as the nations gather for the Winter Olympics we all feel the excitement of such dreams.
He nails the landing and the second snowboarder launches, hits the precipe and wipes out. So it goes with chasing the tail of dreams. Some days we catch a glorious moment and other days we get a mouthful of cold snow. Both snowboarders begin the long hike back up and we head to the store.
Our hike continues and where it will end we don’t know — curable? incurable? — more tests and scans and evaluations will tell. For now, everyone is puzzled by the Hub’s behavior I’ve been red-flagging to deaf ears for nearly five years now. Something is definitely wrong to the point that he doesn’t even know himself anymore.
But I know who I am. I’m fireweed, the purple and pink flower that grows like a tall spear in a tribe of flower warriors. After a forest fire, mining reclamation, road grading or any kind of soil disturbance, fireweed grows back first from seeds born of despair. It’s a phoenix flower, a soil nourisher, a defier of the odds when life is bleakest.
Fireweed and her toddler enter the store.
I have ibuprofen and office supplies to pick up — a few folders to hold the contents of developing plans and workshops. I shop to ease my back pain and keep hope alive. I also browse, drawn to colorful Valentine’s Day merchandise. I attempt to ignore the chocolate.
The Hub plays peek-a-boo with me from the opposite end of the aisle. I hear employees asking him if he needs help and he says he’s just waiting. I feel that’s apt. His life is waiting. He waits for me to get up, to go to bed to notice him. I feel like a cad, ignoring him, but it’s so hard for me to engage with his skewed thinking. He tells me I look nice in the shirt he bought me because he thought it was colorful and he likes colors I don’t and don’t you remember that time…
The moment he dips to the past I stop listening. It takes energy to not argue. He didn’t buy me this shirt. I do like colors. And no, I can’t listen to another story from the past. He lives in the past and I don’t know what to do in the present. Finally, others are seeing the cracks only they’ve become chasms. And he knows it but doesn’t know how to get across.
Yesterday in frustration at his constant pestering (because he was bored), I snapped at him to let me work. He silently left and sat alone on the couch. I heard him tell the dog, “She told me to shut the eff up. Yep. Just shut the eff up.” I wanted to bawl, to go to him and say I don’t want to shut you up, but I’m scared and I’m focusing on jumping off my own precipices and I don’t know how to help you. I can’t have him hindering me. My work is all we have.
I am the fireweed and I brave the inclement weather with one purpose — grow, grow, grow.
At the register, the Hub is making jokes and a woman with sleek gray hair and a classy red and black wool coats finds him outrageous. With an audience, he continues to ham it up. He tells her I’m his support — like a bro bra. I want to cringe, but she laughs. The woman says he’s fun. The Hub elbows me and says he’s fun. I roll my eyes as I concentrate on my transaction.
Then he tells her, “She misses the old me.”
This is the second time in two months he’s said this. One day when we were driving across the bridge he said, “I miss how we used to be.” I do, too. His therapist says not to give up hope, but we don’t yet know what we are dealing with. What I thought was a blight of combat PTSD is now a terrifying dementia-like “something-we-don’t-know.”
The woman asks how long we’ve been together. 30 years, he says and looks at me, grinning. I nod and smile. “Yes, 30 years.” She tells me I look beautiful in my coat. It takes me by surprise. Beauty is not a strength. And I had been admiring her classiness. Perhaps she can see I am the fireweed.
February 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fireweed. You can use it as the plant, a flower, a metaphor or as the name of someone or something. Go where the prompt leads. Burn bright when you write.
Respond by February 13 , 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 14). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Life Comes Back (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Spears of purple lined the narrow two-track. Tall dead trees stood like charred sentinels, remaining witnesses to the last forest fire.
“Life comes back,” Danni spoke to no one in particular. Her only companions were three dogs on leash, each tugging a different direction.
At the site of the dig from two years ago, Danni hiked the ridge to her former perch. Any moment she expected Ike to rumble up the road in his truck. Yet there she was with his dogs. She opened the can and spread the ashes, hoping fireweed would find its way into her heart.