We call off the adoption.
I am fine. And then I am not fine.
In the shower I cry and cry. I cry at work, in the car, on the stair.
Reading children’s profiles, my heart was a dog, bounding away from me in a radial star toward this child, that child, finally the child, who I thought would be our child. Now I call my dog heart home.
With my dog heart home, I become all dog. Different dog. Slower, stupider dog. Crying dog. Dog in need of care.
I take my dog for long walks on the levee.
Walking it occurs to me that I could pray. Pray for what? I don’t want to be comforted—fed under the table and petted.
Pray praise? Pray thanksgiving? I walk a mile past the yard waste compost facility. I walk on past the water treatment plant. The levee trail is paved concrete. On either side, stalks of shepherd’s purse bob above clutches of clover and sedge. On the path before me pearl-sized snails brave the crossing.
The prayer that comes is an old one: “Teach me.”
I continue along the levee, cut right at the pump house, and follow the service road down the hill toward the river. This spring the river flooded. The water is still high, curling around the tree trunks, lapping the banks of the road. I peer into the forest-turned-bayou. Dark water. Webs of algae. Drifts of stiff foam catch on submerged brush and low branches. Gatorade bottles, a McDonalds cup, cap, and straw. Two wood ducks, one male, one female skate through the dreck. An egret. I stop. It’s close. It’s still. It must see me. I take it in. Stark white against the black water and trees, head cocked slightly. A glimmer of praise, of thanksgiving. I take a slow step forward, watch for it to move with my movement. It doesn’t move. It remains poised, bill lowered at an angle. I take another step, a less furtive one. It is fixed. Stuck? Sick? Dead? I peer. It is a white plastic bag, the kind with a red draw tab used to line trash bins. It is caught on a branch, snagged and strung out.
It had been very beautiful. Before, when it was an egret.
And now? It’s the same shape I’m seeing. The same white against the same black. But made ugly by my dashed vision.
A hard lesson. I turn. Back up the hill with my expectations chastened. I bring the yardstick by which reality falls short. I am the cause of my own suffering. Fine.
I walk on along the levee, past the washed out soy field to my right and the preserved huddle of trailers to my left. I pass the service station, the gravel yard. I cross under the highway. I am nearing the park. Here the path is lined with red oaks, huge trees commanding wide circles of the canopy. Straight up, open sky. A scream. Then another. Wing beats. Two birds. Red tails. They circle one another, rising, graze wings, lock talons, break apart, descend. One lands on a high limb, female. The other climbs the sky screaming, then dives, male. She spreads her wings to rise. He races toward her, then tumbles. She rises still. They are courting. Somewhere in the canopy there will be a nest. And eventually eggs.
A concession from on high. This thing I want cuts very deep, through the mammalian, reptilian, and fishy parts of me. It is echinodermal, protostomian, fungal, floral, eukaryotic, bacterial . . . basic.
The stretching, the longing. The hope. Cause of my suffering, stuff of hawks dancing. Fine. Fine. Fine. I am sad. And I assent.