about a week and a half ago when i started reading kristin kimball’s the dirty life, i wrote about kristin’s engagement to mark, the farmer she met on a writing assignment, and how it was difficult for me to trust the story without knowing if things worked out between them. my silly struggle had nothing to do with the writing. the writing is gorgeous. two examples:
the grass that had been left to its own devices was up to my chest. when we walked the mowed margins of the fields in the evenings, a school of black crickets sprang ahead of us like dolphins in front of a ship. the pond behind the farmhouse had shrunk to half its size, and it was thick with frogs. every afternoon, the great blue heron came, patience in the form of a bird. still, still, and then a movement too quick to be seen. the heron had gigged a frog. the frog struggled at the end of the heron’s bill, and the heron tilted his wedge of a head to the sky, swallowed, and resumed his perfect stillness, one skinny chorus-girl leg cocked backward at the knee. (p. 212, paperback edition)
given the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, the appropriate amount of water, and enough mass, a compost pile can digest anything that was once alive. throughout the previous winter, delicate clouds of steam had risen from it, like smoke at a disco. … it was warm enough on top to hatch flies. one foot under the surface, it was hot enough to burn the life out of weed seeds, hot enough to burn your curious hand. … that heat comes from the action of hordes of organisms, some so tiny billions can live in a tablespoon of soil. they are in there, eating and multiplying and dying, feeding on and releasing the energy that the larger organisms — the plants and the animals — stored up in *their* time, energy that came, originally, from the sun. i think it’s worth it, for wonder’s sake, to stick your hand in a compost pile in winter and be burned by a series of suns that last set the summer before. (p. 233, paperback edition)
stunning, right? so! my initial anxiety about reading was all on me. could i handle it if they split? or worse: could i handle it if they lived happily ever after?
eventually, kristin’s strong prose harnessed me to her story about their first year on the farm. whether it dredged up my fears about love and relationships or not, i plowed quickly through the seasons (the organizational device for the book), very curious to see how all of their farming efforts were going to turn out. yesterday, i finished reading. and i cried, shortly after this:
i wasn’t entirely sure i wanted to go through with [the wedding]. … what was i signing up for? poverty, unmitigated hard work, and a man whom, for all his good points, no reasonable person would describe as easy to be with? objectively, it wasn’t exactly a good bet. there was something else, too, and i don’t know why nobody talks about it. marriage asks you to let go of a big chunk of who you were before, and that loss must be grieved. a choice for something and someone is a choice against absolutely everything else, and that’s one big fat good-bye. (p. 248, paperback edition)
i cried enough that i put down the book for a while. here it was: time for their wedding, for their harvest, for their happy ending. and i almost can’t stand it. i am in tears. lots and lots of tears. they’re not the tears we sometimes shed during a moving part of a film from extreme joy or extreme sadness. these are tears based on fear.
at this point, i’m wrapped up enough in the farm and in kristin and mark that at first i believe it’s empathy. fear on their behalf. what are they getting into? will they be happy? are they getting from each other what they need? but i’m an honest girl… even with myself. carolee, i say, you’re afraid of what’s going on in your own mind. you’re afraid, my dear, that *you* don’t know how to make those decisions/assessments.
i don’t want you to assume that kristin’s writing sugar-coated or romanticized the farm or the relationship. in fact, if i had to guess, the book’s scales weigh difficulty and sacrifice/death (for both the farm and the relationship) heavier than its victories.
what it seems to come down to is what’s inside you begging to be expressed by love — whether it’s love of farming or love for another person. if there’s no other way you can find that bit of yourself, you commit to it. and probably a certain amount of fear about that is good.
i sat on my stoop last weekend with my boyfriend talking about how people often rush to move in together. the idea of combining households — both logistically and emotionally — is far too big for either of us to consider. that may not always be the case, of course. i imagine what happens is there comes a time when it makes more sense to do it than not do it. or… that time doesn’t come. either way. i’m ridiculously content not knowing. what’s inside me being expressed right now are pretty basic affirmations: i know how to care for someone. i can let my guard down and feel safe. desire (& being desired) is like jet fuel for a relationship. i am good at my half of a being a couple. i hope these remain known — and uncomplicated — by whatever comes next.
where, then, in that place of contentment, does fear live? fear strong enough to cause me to cry at someone else’s crossroads?
i fear conflict. having had years of it and having it end very, very badly, i cringe thinking of it living inside another relationship. of course, it’s foolish to think there could be a relationship that’s totally free from discord. kristin described lots of it in the dirty life. and i watch with awe as a couple of my best friends surface the tension in their relationship, live in it and stomp around a bit and then move on. but it terrifies me. shell shock?
one night before bed, we overhear a couple arguing, a loud shouting match. he falls asleep, seemingly undisturbed. i lie awake feeling the reverberations of those sharp, desperate voices. what will be our first fight? what if there’s yelling?
i have trouble believing someone will think i’m worth the trouble.
even as i write it, i know that it is thick, ugly scar tissue talking. but i’m not going to delete it. just because i don’t like where it comes from doesn’t mean it’s invalid.
we’re tested over and over. certainly, the cycle of farm life — its days, seasons and years — is one of the best metaphors for that. kristin and mark seem to have gotten lucky. they get to wake up every day next to someone who’s as willing as they are to chase after the joy in a thing. there’s a lot packed into that sentence: stability, devotion, inspiration, vision… and action. in their case, a good portion of it is actual physical labor, and it exhausts them.
i tried as i read the dirty life to figure out what keeps them going, and right now, this is all i have: they count on it being worth the trouble. very, very interesting. 😉