The air is just easier to breathe. Boise slides me into a constant state of meditation where I’m floating above my life and the things I left undone back at home. The trees are greener and the pace, slower. People stop on the sidewalk and say more than just “hello.” They share afternoon coffee and tea at their next-door neighbors’ and in downtown cafes. Whether I’m sweeping floors or doing dishes, I’m present, never wishing I were somewhere else.
Dropping vases off across the street for the party—a cancer fundraiser—my legs suddenly halt on the sidewalk in front of the house. Frozen in that meditative state. Floating, feeling, up through my belly, in and out. Last time we were here, she was sitting there on the double-wide iron chair on the corner of the patio. Can hear her laughing, watch the crinkle of her face.
We’ll be here tonight, all of us, except her. Except her fire. The tears burn my face from the inside, threatening to leak out. It’s not the time.
All of a sudden, my eyes pull past the porch to a tree I don’t remember seeing before. I’m longing to climb into the giant lap nestled between two outstretched arms and legs, splayed wide and strong. Run away from this pain.
My uncle, Joe, has probably told me a story about this unusual tree, one I can’t remember for all its twists and turns, like the branches further up where I can’t climb.
Just then a breeze blows by the sweet green scent of that tree, like a clear, gentle wave that then washes back out to sea.
Last year, we all sat around the edge of that porch, surprised by the delicacy of the rosé—so far from the tart Boones Farm we laughed about drinking at one point in our younger lives—while the sun snuck down on us between the trees with barely a breeze to stir the leaves. I soaked in every ray in just the same spot all afternoon. Nana, my uncles, our host and his guest, my husband, Kyle, and our two girls occasionally played musical seats to dodge the strongest patches under the circle of branches above.
On the porch of that old, brick house—haunted upstairs, they say, by a girl who succumbed during her teen years—life slowed beyond even the normal pace of Boise life. Sitting there, watching women fan themselves, I sighed in a moment of years gone by, watching it travel down that spiral staircase, dance through the chandelier at the bottom and spill out the door. Like a reminder of Colonial times, when people sat on their porches to escape the heat, no one wanted to move.
Though for us, something more than heat kept us there. Whether it was the ringing of laughter at so many octaves, from my children and my grandmother and so many generations in between; chiming of crystal with more and more wine, as if the pink color itself could cool our throats like icy lemonade; giddy talk among writers, attorneys, business owners, and students, all lovers of the arts; or an odd blend of blood-relations and old friendships forged through the joint survival of marriage, birth, divorce, disease, loss—including some introductions folded into the mix—coming together out of joy. No one could be prepared for what would happen after the spell was broken.
After the sunset it began to grow dark, and the wine began to run thick in our blood, we dreamt of the leftovers waiting in the refrigerator. Slowly, we stood, one by one, and walked back across the street to my uncles’ house. Nana made her way to the cottage where she was staying, to rest.
More than once during the next few days, Kyle nodded and smiled, saying, “That was a really nice afternoon.” Typically, we travel to Boise once a year for Kyle to compete in a Half Ironman race, which had occurred before the party that day. After a race, Kyle often speaks of little else the next day or two, understandably caught up in an event for which he spends months in training and then leaves behind nothing but salt on his cap and clothes. But the hallowed porch gathering had clearly captivated his thoughts.
This year, as usual, we flew to Boise a few days prior to the race to get his registration packet and settle into the hotel. Soon after landing, Kyle stopped dead in the middle of the airport corridor and slid his padded racing bike case off his arm. “It’s this weekend,” he said. I reached for his empty shoulder, and he turned to me, tears in his eyes. “I can’t believe it’s been a year . . . ”
In between, everything had gradually collapsed like a supernova: the misdiagnosis of acid reflux; the phone call with the biopsy results; the subsequent visits to Nana’s home in Las Vegas; watching my uncles care for her, day after day, to the very end. Now, five months after the official service, the circle is reborn on our own memorial weekend in the City of Trees.
Photo credit: Tree From Porch by Dan Zen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.