On Wildfires

The D-Train #46

My “self-care” (ha ha ha, I’m a single mom with a toddler), usually consists of watching crappy reality shows, drinking one-too-many glasses of wine, and flipping through a dumb celebrity magazine while wearing ill-fitting sweatpants and cat socks for, like, a grand total of six minutes before falling asleep. 

Which is to say, I haven’t necessarily been taking great care. (Although those socks are totally hot, no?).

Dudes, I needed to get away. Things have been tumultuous with the divorce (ho hum), and I needed some space to think, so I packed up my tent and headed upstate for a few days. I had my phone with me, so I wasn’t completely unplugged, but for the most part it was quiet. For three days, I sipped warm glasses of whiskey beside a crackling campfire, and climbed down a steep ridge to sink my toes into the cool Esopus Creek, and lay on my back for hours to consider the slowly circling hawks and the arching trees and the limitless sky, so autumn-crisp and clear. 

And you know what? It helped everything. Within a very short amount of time of being there, I began to feel an undeniable shift in my thinking taking over. Amazing how that happens.

When you spend a few days camping, you bring very little with you. A tent, a sleeping bag, a wool sweater, a change of underwear, a toothbrush, a fork and a knife, a notebook, a lighter, the smallest imaginable pillow that rolls up into a stuff-bag, yet still somehow provides just enough comfort to sleep. After a few days in the woods you can’t help but find yourself thinking, what the fuck else do I really need? Seriously. 

I gave a lot of thought to how I can settle this divorce, and what the future looks like, and how I can move forward in power when I feel like so much has been stolen from me. And in the midst of all these thoughts, I kept coming back to a distant memory of a different autumn day. I found myself remembering that when I was very young, before my parents divorced, my father blew up a car in our driveway. He was always working on cars. He would buy old clunkers in barely-working condition, and he would try to fix them up with not much more than junkyard parts and duct tape. He thought that this was a way to make money – to buy them cheap, repair them, and resell them for a profit. Except he broke more than he fixed, and he never made much of anything from those rolling buckets of tin. The result was that there was an endless stream of shitcans in various states of disrepair parked around our driveway, the classic front yard auto graveyard of poor people everywhere. And we still counted our blessings that the electricity hadn’t been cut off.

When my dad blew up the car, I was riding my bike next door in my grandparents’ driveway. My mom had just gotten home from work, and she was standing outside in her starched white nurse’s uniform talking to my grandmother (an image I can picture so clearly, it’s like no time has passed at all). The explosion was not loud in my memory, but it was followed by sky high flames that seared the oak tree at the end of the driveway. My mother and grandmother jumped into action. There was a garden beside the driveway, and they quickly began shoveling dirt from around the tomatoes and cucumbers onto the blazing car with their hands. The fire department came, but the garden was ruined. My mother’s fury was palpable. The oak tree lived, but the black char marks never went away. And I understood, early on, some men blow up cars in the driveway, and the women throw dirt upon the fire. 

When I came home from camping I accepted a settlement agreement. And then my ex threw a tantrum and blew up the deal that our lawyers had agreed upon. Then I accepted another agreement, and he blew it up a second time. I have accepted a third time under the strictest of conditions from him. Everyone, all of the lawyers, are just trying to keep him from losing it again. This agreement -- it’s nothing that I want, and I am swallowing a ton of pain to make it happen. He hasn’t officially agreed to anything yet, but third time’s the charm? In the meantime, I will keep shoveling dirt on the flames until it’s done. It doesn’t make it ok, but it’s women’s work, and it’s a way out. 

Sometimes you have to do what you know.


Amy Blair

Ps. A lot happened after I came back from the woods. This song is a bit of a dirge, but it’s also hopeful and celebratory and beautiful. A reminder that everything can be gone in the blink of an eye, and how strange it is to be…anything at all. (For A.K. of A.P.K., with love).

And listen to The D-Train, The Playlist, a soundtrack for a shit show.

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