On the Eve of September

September is a month of memories, men gone missing, men who leave without goodbyes, the one who chooses it and the two who don’t. It is the month of my marriage to my now dead husband, the month of my birthday, last spent with a now gone friend, the month too in which my brother died. What to celebrate? Which of these to grieve? Do I celebrate the first man and grieve the marriage? Do I grieve the second one even if I shouldn’t? Do I instead weep for them both, and for the lost voice of the third one, gone so long now I have trouble recalling its cadence and timbre, the precise pitch of his speech?

It is a complicated thing, September, and so on its eve I have my hands in the tomatoes I’ve too long untended, untangling gently the mass of vines, looping some over fence and spreading some out over floor, pulling the ripened ones and exposing still others to sun. There are only 3 plants, two pear tomatoes and one cherry, yet they are flooding the patio with green, taking over a full third of its small space. Nothing else in the garden grew. I could blame it on the storms, the sodden summer and its too busy skies, constantly dumping rain. But I think the truth is something simpler. I just didn’t care. I couldn’t make my hands care. There is something hopeful about the idea of a garden, all bright buds and promise of growth, and my hope had broken.

How do you fix that? It’s a question I ponder often. As I make my hands tend the tomatoes I wonder how you make yourself wish for a future when what you have been given is loss and then loss again. About the only future I wish for now is his, the one belonging to the small boy upstairs sleeping. Last night he snuck into my room again with his pillow and Lightning McQueen blanket. It’s the third time this week. After so long of doing so well since those first terrible few months after his father died, when some well-meaning idiot compared death to sleep and so he was afraid to, he is now scared to sleep alone again, tells me he “just wants to be a baby,” says “can you carry me,” says “sing me my baby songs,” and so I tuck him against my shoulder, so I rock his 4.5 year old body in my arms though he is too big and it is anything but comfortable, so I sing the songs I made up for him in infancy, and when he sneaks into my room so he can sleep with a hand on my arm, I don’t make him leave.

Because I’ve let the tomatoes go for so long untended, some are overripe and when I pull them they are split sided and spilling, their seeds staining the concrete. They look like I feel, something hollowing out, something emptied. Not for the first time I ask myself—how do you fix hope when it has broken? There is no answer; only my hands on the eve of September, filling with overripe tomatoes like little halved hearts, my palms stained red.

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