I called it the summer of Queen Anne’s Lace because I began to notice the ubiquitous weed everywhere. It grew by the side of the road, in ditches, and unmown fields. Anywhere that was untended, unloved, uncared-for, there was this lacy flower. Then also this summer people around me began to die: my cousin’s wife’s mother, my husband’s mentor, my boss, a guy I used to work with years ago who in a vast sea of mean spirited co-workers was uncommonly kind to me. And somewhere in that field of summer death there was a pervasive consistent worry about my son, fourteen, struggling not to grow up, and dealing with some pretty horrible demons.
So I carried it with me everywhere: a sadness, a worry, a constant feeling that all was not right. It settled in the middle of my chest, and I thought briefly that I was having a heart attack. But I am only 47 and I knew better.
My daughter brought those weeds to my attention. She picked one outside her daycare, and it brought to mind the times I used to color water and put the queen Anne’s lace in the water and watch their white lacey heads turn purple or green. Magic, I told her as we whipped up a concoction of dye. By week’s end every surface in the daycare was covered with a white flower stewing in colorful juices: toddlers with science on the mind. It warmed me and brought comfort to this odd summer.
Then suddenly there they were, everywhere, rows and rows of wildflowers waving in the hot summer sun, thriving, in spite of the heat, and I can’t really explain what possessed me to stop but I did. I pulled over by the side of a less traveled road and a vast field filled with Queen Anne’s Lace.
I pulled the flowers by the longest stems, they were tough, cutting my fingers. My dad used to call them wild carrots, and I hold the root to my nose and smelled the faint aroma of carrot. I am hot and feel the dust from the stems on my hands. I used to love spotting the queen in the middle, a deep dark red dot in the head of the lace. There she is, I think, palms sweaty, bouquet growing bigger.
I went to lunch recently with a friend and when I shared a way out fear that I had Lou Gehrig’s disease she laughed and said, “you are the mellowest person I know. You don’t strike me as a worrier at all.” I laughed, she clearly couldn’t see the foot bearing down on the middle of my chest. Didn’t know that I often stopped breathing at stoplights, so worried I was that they would not change and I would be left sitting there in perpetuity.
My son has epilepsy, and as he navigates his way through puberty he is having a hard time managing his convulsions. His hormones have somehow affected his brain. Again and again they lower him to the ground, leaving an empty space where most have a memory. This summer they happened in the diving well of the pool and on the ladder to the diving board. They happened at a church youth group supper and on the stone wall of the farmer’s market. They happened on the way to a fourth of July parade. They happened at amusement parks and at camps for kids with epilepsy, and at both his grandmother’s homes. They happened at breakfast, lunch and dinner. And now as he begins his freshman year in high school they happen in the corridors and gym classes and science labs. I can’t let him ride the bus for fear he has a seizure on the bus.
I think the school nurse did not believe me when I went to see her and explained his problem. She had lots of kids in her file cabinet of maladies that listed epilepsy as a disease. I don’t think she understood that she would know Grayson better than any of them. I laugh now because after three weeks we are old friends. I have a partner in crime. She doesn’t know about the foot on my chest though. She doesn’t know how when I draw in a breath it gets heavier and heavier. She doesn’t know that I am afraid to cry because if I do, I will not be able to stop. If I begin to cry it will start pouring out of me like blood from a wounded soldier. Crying will consume me and I am afraid of that.
I think all this, and know all this, while I am knee deep in wild carrots at the side of the road. My hair has flown out of the bun on my head. Bugs are swarming my sweaty neck and face. A car speeds by close to my own car and then there it is, the first glimpse I get in a long long time of hope. Nothing in particular, no butterfly on my nose or brief breeze across my neck, simply a fleeting feeling, for one brief moment the heavy paw on my chest is gone, and I breathe a deep unencumbered breath and in that one moment I can think for the first time, everything is going to be all right. Everything will be ok.
The feeling is so momentary that I am actually wondering what synapses fired in my head to bring me that feeling. All I have is this giant bundle of weeds from a dusty lot at the side of the road. The sun still scorches, the bugs still bite, I am about to sneeze and of course the heavy weight has returned to the middle of my chest. But something there in that moment gave me hope. Something in the world whispered to me on some cosmic channel. You will be okay. And I believed it.
Amy for the PGM
Amy for the PGM