some things come easy.

it is fall again and the light is yellow and crisp and i swear i only brought her home yesterday but there she is, Josephine walking, tottering like a blithe drunk about the house, careening into everything faster than my hands can catch her.

she took her first formal steps, the first real replicable confident stutter from here to there, exactly on her first birthday. a true Virgo, fastidious and precise and on time. two weeks later, she is unstoppable, a whirlwind. she is delighted with herself. i am delighted in her.

it’s easy when thing line up tidy-like. smugness rises like cream, unbidden, unintentional. i have to slap myself.

i suspect that some poor lost Virgo – perhaps the part of me from which Josephine’s timeliness sprang – lurks under my Aquarian skin, trying to run a Prussian train line through the soup that is life. my inner Virgo wants to believe that someday all the books will not only be shelved but alphabetized, that the dishwasher will empty itself, that everything will go on schedule, that there will be an Answer.  all the things i just never made sense of in this big ol’ game of Go Fish, she’s been tallying, saving up, waiting for me to put in order.

this Virgo, she gets louder and more anxious every year. virgins are like that, i retort. she glares, haughty, above me.

but she forgets too easily, this Virgo. she lets herself believe that order=safety, that norms=virtue. she lets herself believe in the medieval laws of hermetics and falls prey to the mugs’ game of pride in random milestones, mistaking them for a promise that all will continue.

normal only means the bus hasn’t hit you yet.

normal is a trick of the mind, one that lets you believe yourself cossetted from the awfulness you glimpse now and then at the periphery of things. yet it is normal to have suffering come for you eventually, not only in the thud of mortality but in the hundred shocking ways a world can be swept from under you.

when you know this, and make yourself remember, nothing comes so easy. first steps – on a first birthday or months before or later – are a marvel, a quiet, private symphony unto themselves.

my Virgo, trapped eyeless under my skin, cannot see this. her lens turns only inward, tallying these small blessings gifted me by my children, and nodding yes, yes.  she believes she is due.

each September for the past few years we’ve gone apple picking in the same orchard not far from the city; a wide, sloping place that veers down towards water, all small, twisty trees abundant with fruit.

there are few things in my adulthood i’ve done five years in a row…i have not stayed still long enough for that kind of consistency, ’til now.  but this local teacher-turned-farmer and his earnest operation of organic apples keep us coming.

Oscar’s first year in the orchard he slept against his father’s chest, cheeks like apples peeking out above the carrier. two years ago he was just big enough to ride on the little apple basket trolley without toppling. last year, he batted at the trees and filled the basket mostly with half-eaten remains of all the apples he tried, while i carried eleven-day old Josephine in her sling and tried to pick one-handed. this year, even my baby girl took a chomp at temptation, her cheeks shuddering when the tartness hit.

the first year, though, we went without children. a friend dragged us out in our crappy old station wagon, her energy buoyant enough to break through the cloister we’d imposed on ourselves those months after Finn died.  i was newly pregnant with Oscar, as fragile and closed as an eggshell, emotionally, but the apple-picking pleased me, comforted. the small trees and the low-hanging fruit were easy, the first thing in that long season of drastic change and adjustment that seemed to come without undue effort. we filled baskets, the sun shone, i smiled. and then we paid and drove away and our friend said i know the prettiest country road.

isn’t that how Deliverance starts?

we were playing Lucinda Williams on the stereo. raw, reckless, rollicking Lucinda, wailing I think I lost it, lemme know if you come acrost it, lemme know if i let it fall along a back road somewhere… the only song i seem to remember from the haze of bewilderment and grief that had been that summer of ’05.  our friend Christina, with pipes like a church choir, competed with Lucinda from the back seat. i droned happily in my three-note warble.

and then a bang and a metallic ripping sound. the car bumped gracelessly to a halt. the scenic red-dirt lane had torn the ass-end straight out of our vehicular lemon and we were a good few miles from nowhere without even cows to gaze upon our distress.  Christina sacrificed a belt to try to tie the necessary underbelly back onto the car, to no avail, and Dave plucked at a barbwire fence for the same purpose. i did nothing. i had, with the very first bang, gone under.

normal may be an illusion, but there are times the human brain can only sustain so much of its absence. i just moved continents, been airlifted and lost my hard-scrounged job all in the same breath, had a child and had that child die in my arms. but it was our poor old fugly station wagon – bought for a baby who never rode in it – that sent me off the rails.

i didn’t do much. you wouldn’t have known, to see me. i sat by a ditch, patting my bag of apples, still singing Lucinda Williams. but inside something had snapped, gone rogue.

the Virgo had been telling me all my life that if i just worked harder, tried harder, was better, things would work out. the universe, though, was seemingly expending all its energy thwarting my need for any sort of positive outcome or expectation of normalcy whatsoever. or that’s how it felt, then, at the side of that dirt road.

and so for a minute, i gave up. i dropped my head to my knees and breathed deep and jagged and stared into the red mud puddle between my feet and forgot, briefly, that i was verklempt and bereaved and hopeless and apparently cursed of god and Hyundai, both.  i picked up a shiny, crisp apple, fresh from the tree, and bit it.

my brain said, this is nice.

the Virgo heaved and gnashed her teeth. i heard her, vaguely, through my chewing. you are sitting in a mud puddle! lost in the backwoods! your baby died and you’re broke and your ridiculous life makes no sense at the moment! and you had such POTENTIAL! did i mention that tow truck is going to cost a fortune? and that you’re IN a mud puddle?

i looked at Dave, ten feet away, trying to clean the barb wire rust off his hands. i looked at Christina, fearless in the face of our sadness, who had befriended us when we had nothing to offer except need. i looked at my apples and decided i could walk back to civilization on apple power if i had to.

i thought, these will possibly be the darkest days of my life.  i felt almost eager, thinking it, delusional and free, like a glimpse into some other time usually veiled from my eyes. i watched the sun play on my hands and realized i was going to live through these rotten, ludicrous days, even if they didn’t come easy.

states of grace never last, at least not for me. i told the Virgo to fuck off, and it was good. but she was back the very next day.

the places in me where she is woven deepest i still rise, indignant, at any sign of my own bad luck, any sign that i am again cast beyond the bounds of what i deem normal for folks to have to bear. i know better, and still i fall for it, the old line that i have somehow paid my dues and am exempt from future suffering.

someday, if we are lucky, we will all be old. and we will suffer. to be old is to ache, to lose one’s loves, one’s friends, one’s independence. i sometimes wonder if we have our goals straight.

but for right now, in this gift of my neglected functional body, and the healthy maelstrom of short legs that is my children’s sweet solidity and simple, easy development, i am replete. the Virgo be damned. i see blessings.