On fennel, immortality and sunset in red
(for Neli, who says it makes a difference in her life when I write)
This summer I would wake up at 5:15am. Usually I would wake up even earlier than that and lie in bed and wait for the alarm to sound. When the mornings were hot I would push the blanket away and roll halfway across the bed and lie on its cold side. I felt rested and lazy and tried to find an excuse to not get up and to skip the dojo. At 5:20 I would get up, brush my teeth, put my gi on, take my sports bag, my phone and my car keys and walk through the door into the morning. The air was fresh and not cold in July. At 5:30 the sun was still behind the horizon but the darkness had already disappeared giving way to the gray air full of greenish trees.
Later in the day I would occasionally have breakfast at a cafe next to the dojo, sometimes with a friend and sometimes on my own. A few times we went to ride horses on the fields at sunrise. And the sunlight on those fields was mixed with the strong smell of fennel, the same fennel that was in my toothpaste when I was a child. The scent of fennel, wild flowers and sunlight stayed on your skin till you showered that day. And then July was part of you.
At 9 I would be working. I would spend hours pulling customer data for analysis and designing tests. And the hours would braid into my work so smoothly that I would not notice how it would become afternoon and then evening. The kids were spending summer with my parents in Spain and there was nobody to interrupt my days.
There was a man that I cared for and when I would have a moment I would call him and if he could talk we would talk for a long while narrating our day and things we did. Sometimes we would meet for lunch or dinner and it seemed that summer days were still too short to say everything we lived through. We laughed a lot too. This relationship grew like the wild flowers on the fields grow: suddenly, growing under rains, spring winds and unyielding sunlight, and away from people’s eyes. And like the scent of fennel and wild flowers on early summer mornings it made one feel immortal.
In summers I had time to think and so I thought about what love was. Wasn’t it as simple as being able to put yourself in the other people’s shoes and see the world like they see it for a second, just to understand them? And then being able to say and do things in such a way as to make their day a little bit better from their point of view without taking anything away from yourself? This was the same love that you would have for a child or a friend or a parent. And yet it was so difficult to achieve taking the rational path… The walk across the field with the wild flowers that smell of fennel and immortality took you there directly.
This summer I had a lot of freedom. Like the wild flowers I had the freedom to grow. And so I worked two jobs, contracted on small projects, trained in bjj almost every morning, took a few courses on speech and kept working on my company. The kids were taken care of and I felt asleep at nights with a smile on my face first thinking about them; and then feeling the cool calmness of the sheets on my half-naked body and finally imagining the eyes and the hands of the man I cared for and gradually dissolving in the darkness of my own sleep. Summer nights were still, like the fields without wind, and I slept deeply.
A few times this summer I observed with certain surprise that I never regretted my divorce. First time it was because my mom asked me if I ever regretted not being with my ex-husband and, caught off guard, I bluntly said “no, not a day.” And this made me look back a few more times and realize that I did not miss being married. Our relationship was bulky, unkind and painful towards the end. I was young when I married and I lost my sense of direction and wandered away from the flowery field into a well-know path that took a lot of space and energy and that ended up in a big building resembling a shopping center. I was glad to be far away from it now.
On the summer mornings when I did not work or train I would go on a hike in the redwoods. And walking on the narrow path I would hear birds sing and would be taken aback by the sounds and by the beautiful silence around me. I was not that present before. Once at home I would take a shower to wash off all the dust and before putting on my clothes I would stay in front of a large bedroom mirror and look at my naked body. The skin, with slightly darker arms and legs touched by the summer sun, the muscles, the breasts, the visible neck bones, the hips, my face, my wet hair with the water still dripping around my neck, and the red nail polish on my fingers, the only bright spot in this human nakedness. And I would look at myself and feel kind towards this body that was mine; and slowly, like a raising wave in the ocean, love would settle in, taking away the objection of the slightly full hips. And then I would’t be serious any longer and I would smile and make faces and tell myself to go get dressed, or at least wrap myself in a towel before going into the kitchen to make coffee.
Those were summer days in July when I would wake up loving my mornings, work a lot, think tenderly about people close to me and feel wrapped in the smell of fennel and immortality under the morning sunlight. I was waiting for the kids to come back from Spain to start another school year, and for more work to take on to be able to pay for all of it. And I wanted to hear what his next project would be and see how my own projects would unfold.
And one evening I saw an immaculate sunset filled with small white clouds sprinkled with golden aureolas from the setting sun. And I thought that almost nothing could be as beautiful as that. That day I sat back on the sofa with the laptop on my knees working in front of that sky. And gradually, making its pauses, the sky turned red. The little clouds became golden and I sat there slowly falling in love. As if everything before that was not beautiful enough.