"I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I'm not screwing around. It's time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you've developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.
Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you're still searching and you're more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can't live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It's time to show up and be seen."
I see my boyfriend's face and it is kind, and good, and guileless. This makes him sound dull. He is far from dull. He puts his arms around me, even from thousands of miles away, and whispers in my ear. He pushes me when I need it in the way that you would push a skittish horse. He's smooth. Yes, that's the word. I see his face on the screen of my laptop and he says, you need to write something today. He flutters his hands about like a butterfly, as if he were a dancer describing "writing." It's like jazz hands. I mimic him. He laughs. I demur. We are in sync. What he's saying is, if you don't write, you'll be unhappy, and if you're unhappy, guess who gets it? He has a face I love, craggy, dented with lines, beautiful, his mouth like that of a sweet dog, just perfect and kind; he smiles at me when he sees my face, at other times he doesn't. He misses me. I miss him. We forget who we are. And then we don't. I see his face and it reminds me of all that is good. I see his face and it reminds me of who I am, and takes me away from the dry warmth, the heavy branches sagging beneath it, the dying grass, the brown-ness that is Los Angeles in August, the fires, the politics, the deadness, the ants that have invaded my house, tiny and purposeful, the great weight of the heat, and sprinkles cool, English water in my face.
Having always had tricky men in my life, I create great burning hoops for him to jump through. I can't help it. I don't mean to be unkind, but I think I might be. If this were courtly love, he has won my heart. He protests not once to any of the tests, and arrives always on a white horse, with my handkerchief on his sword. I swoon, I berate myself, I am grateful. All of those things.
Seen fleetingly, from a train: a foggy evening, strands of smoke hanging immobile over fields, the humid blackness of earth, the sun almost set—against its fading shield, far away, two dots: women in dark wraps coming back from church perhaps, perhaps one tells something to another, some common story, of sinful lives perhaps—her words distinct and simple but out of them one could create everything again. Keep it in memory, forever: the sun, ploughed earth, women, love, evening, those few words good for the beginning, keep it all— perhaps tomorrow we will be somewhere else, altogether.
— Bronislaw Maj
Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass
You really can't call yourself a proper Laurel Canyon dweller if you don't like green juice, and the best green juice I've ever had comes from the Laurel Canyon Country Store, which is also my source for Cadbury's and PG Tips. The most terrible news, however, is that they're not making green juice any longer, but we have managed, very slyly, to procure the recipe from Angeli. Thank you, Angeli.
The weather on our little island in the Oslo fjord rather suits my moods. I don't actually mind looking out across the bay, the lovely, familiar view, and seeing dark grey rain clouds, shot with sea birds. The sea is a slate color too and far, far in the distance the encouraging flat bottoms of cumulus clouds. Every time we roll in the awning, which is on the deck and keeps the table and chairs dry, the rain comes again, dark and ferocious, but this is novel. My skin is bright and puffy from the moisture, not drawn, as it is in Los Angeles. In between showers, we walk, and the delicate ceiling of oak leaves is euphorbia green, an impossible cover, bursting with chlorophyll. But the grey sea, the little flat islands, the pine trees, the sound of the gulls, the one or two boats, is familiar, comforting, home. I am in my happy place.
A new landscape, relaxing after the frenetic pace of work, and calls and emails, a quiet house by the sea with sporadic internet, is that one's mind becomes freed up too, to think about things that were easier to tamp down, to delve into the harder things. I burst into tears this morning, thinking about Jelly, as I did a week ago at the Royal Academy summer exhibit, presented with a painting of a horse lying down on the ground, his rider lying on top of him. The hardest thing is wondering whether one has done the right thing. Yes, I had two vets agree it was right, and I know, intellectually it was the kind decision, but my heart aches. I can't bear to think of him struggling not to go down on his knees when the shot took effect, and my arms around his still warm, furry body as he lay in the dirt, my brave, handsome boy. It is quite incredible to think that a huge 16.2 horse, a blood horse, full of energy and adrenaline, and twitching muscles, could be rendered completely and utterly still within a matter of a few minutes.
And then the sun comes out. The raindrops glisten on the top of the hedge as hundreds of tiny prisms. The blue overpowers the grey. Swallows circle, delightedly.
The kind of heat we're experiencing in LA is what they euphemistically call "unseasonably warm." It's 107F, ie hotter than bloody hell. This is what we expect in September -- not June -- when the dirt is brown and brittle from the long, parched summer, when walking out into a hairdryer seems to be the seasonal norm, the tradition. It reminds me of being barefoot and pregnant and standing in the sprinklers at 9pm at our rental duplex on Harper Avenue, opposite where Ellen used to live when she wasn't famous. Oppressive heat makes you grumpy. You have to get into your car and turn on the AC (or Air Con, as my lovely English boyfriend calls it, which makes it sound frightfully grand) and then walk away for five minutes before getting in. I've got one of Jelly's white cotton saddle pads on my seat so I don't burn my bottom. And I'm pressing the MAX AC button, which I've just discovered. It's the kind of heat that makes you want to slap tourists who are smoking on Hollywood Blvd as the hot air rises from the pavement. How can you smoke in when it's a million degrees, you wonder. It's the kind of heat that makes you grumpy with Waze, and makes you tetchy in traffic when you're usually calm -- the kind that makes you lose any semblance of patience. It's the kind, too, that makes you want to lie naked on the dark grey slate in an air-conditioned bathroom and wave your arms in pretend snow angels.
And the fires are burning. Santa Barbara. Asuza. Duarte. The 2 Freeway. More. Thinking about the firefighters in all their gear, courageous, strong and sweltering.
The heat makes me want to swear, say things like "ballsing hell."
To make matters worse, I had a passport picture taken today. "You look like Tilda Swinton with a round face," said my son, cautiously. "Don't smile" said the lady at Photo One on Santa Monica Blvd. "The British Government don't like smile." And so my mouth is wiggly line, like Snoopy's mouth when he's embarrassed.
In my endless quest for a red lipstick I can wear, I bought one from Nars, a crayon, Cruella. My Girlfriends Who Wear Red swear by it. I put it on and look more like Ena Sharples than Angelina Jolie. I give it to Monica, who of course looks like a bombshell in it.
I am trying not to think about my brave boy. I just can't bear to think about.
I want to throw myself in the Oslo fjord, in the salty seawater and put my head under and gargle it and swim and swim till I'm tired. I want the fine rain on my face, the miniscule raspberries that grow by the roadside, the yarrow and wild ox-eye daisies of our magic island.
My sweet boy died this morning at about 10.20am. The vet, who was young, and had just de-horned a steer, told me that there are two things we can do for our animals 1) Give them a good life and 2) Allow them a dignified death. Jelly had both. He was the best adventure partner a girl could ask for. Every weekend was like summer camp; climbing mountains, jumping ditches, fording rivers, galloping through streams, meandering through tree-lined paths studded with deer, coyotes, and the occasional mountain lion.
Last night I walked through Whole Foods after an event at the Paley Center, and had to hold back the tears as I put bags of carrots, small Fuji apples and granola bars into my basket. It felt so significant, somehow, Shopping For The Last Meal. I got up early this morning and drove out to the barn to see him. I gave him a bubble bath and rubbed behind his ears and scratched his face with my fingers, and fed him his treats and let him graze a little and warm off in the sun. Then we led him down to the turnout arena with the soft sand footing, and he was given two shots while I held him and told him what a good boy he was. He fought falling to his knees but finally capitulated and lay down. I put my arms around his warm neck and told him I loved him and that it would be okay and that there was a happy place with endless supplies of grass and friends. He was calm and sweet and soft and then he was gone, and this big, warm brown body lay in the dirt, with all the energy sucked out of it. I put my head on his neck and wept. And Vince, the lovely Mexican American guy who runs the barn gave me a hug, and the young vet held my hand, and Liz, who's been helping with Jelly, hugged me too, and the dogs sat at a respectful distance, uncharacteristically, just watching. I'm glad we did it somewhere soft. I didn't want him to hurt himself.
I took a quarter of his tail as a keepsake, any more seemed undignified. And I took his halter with his name on it, and at home, I lit candles, and put up a picture on the little altar, next to his tail, and said a prayer and told God to look after him because he is a very special person, a friend.
So much love. So much love and kindness pours out when these things happen, from friends and acquaintances, and even people you know hardly at all. So much love exists in the world, and there it is, magically appearing when we need it, flooding over us, a warm bath of it. There are flowers, pink and orange and red, and phone calls, and text messages, and the most eloquent expressions of sadness and support.
The tragedy is that he was so young. Just six, still considered, honestly, a baby. "It's such a cruel disease" said the vet. I think I was sobbing unashamedly at this point, and uncontrollably. It's unbelievably cruel.
But he saved me when I really needed saving. And I saved him when he could have just been cast aside (ex-racehorses don't always have a dignified or comfortable life, or any life at all, after racing). And we took care of each other, like the Famous Five, although there were only three of us (Bean came too, on our adventures) and, to be honest, he wasn't a huge fan of ginger beer, or egg sandwiches.
And tonight I walked out on the hillside in Laurel Canyon, as I do each night with the dogs, so that they can pee and snuffle around, and there was a big blue moon and I knew it was for Jelly (apparently I turn into Cher in "Moonstruck" at these moments. And I sat down in front of my favorite asparagus tree (agave americana) and an owl landed right at the top and stared me down. He was there for about seven minutes. I switched off my flashlight and put my phone away so it was just me, the moon, the owl, and the dogs, sitting quietly, and the occasional hum of a passing car in the canyon. Maybe I've read too much Harry Potter, or maybe I'm too much a fan of shamanistic tales, but that was a sign, that all is well, that Jelly has gone over to the other side, where he is galloping in miles and miles of glorious green pasture, feeling free and warm and surrounded by love.