The first year we were married, Richard and I made love in every state between New York and California. We thought our bodies would never wear out. We camped in national parks at night and in the daytime we toured famous gardens. We began with the Sonnenberg, near us in Canandaigua, and ended at the Golden Gate Conservatory. In St. Louis it was the Shaw; we spent two days wandering the eighty acres, coming home at night to Richard’s grandfather’s apartment.
It’s curious, but what I remember from that trip now is not the feat of geographical sex, or the wonders of highly manipulated landscapes, but something the old man told us. We were standing in the narrow hallway of his large and comfortable apartment, looking at a wall of photographs that showed him as a young man, and though he was still just as well-dressed and elegant, age had made him fragile. His body was stooped and starved-looking, but his brain was fine and his eyes were lively. “I can’t believe I’m eighty-seven,” he whispered. “How did it happen?” At that time the question seemed irrelevant. Richard’s pop-pop might have succumbed to eighty years, but I knew, at age twenty-three, that I would have the strength and better sense to avoid it.
This was not because I thought I would die young, or because my generally pessimistic view of international affairs accepted the probability of a devastating nuclear event; the fact is, I really did believe I would never be older than thirty-six, the age I had once chosen with a friend as the last outpost before the decrepitude neither of us would ever consent to experience.
The problem, now that I’m well past that outpost and others, meaning that I’m a post-puberty, post-fertility, post-pregnancy, post-childbirth, post-lactation, post-menopause woman, is: how does one go forward? What does the baby-making body do now? I remember the hallway. It was painted a soft canary yellow and the little man was so excited to see us. How did it happen, he asked. He knew and I do too. No one can escape time. For me, the question is still in the present tense: How does it happen?
What I mean, of course, is Hagar. My friend with the unfortunate name. I’ve never asked her about it. And the truth is, now that we like each other, I never think of her namesake at all.
When I step outside, I am just in time to see her little green station wagon leave my driveway to turn onto the road. She is furious. I can tell by the way she [End Page 167] comes to only half a stop and then barrels onto the paved surface in a tall spume of dust. Less than an hour ago she had called to ask if we had internet, theirs was down, could she come by to get online?
I was glad for the company and had gone outside to wait for her. In October, there are always things to do. Weeds to pull, hoses to bring in, plants to mulch with the straw stored in the barn, so as I waited for her, I also accomplished things. What I’ve always told people who come to my gardening clinics is that what you do in the fall, that is, the way you put your gardens to bed for the winter, will, to a large extent, determine the success of your efforts the following spring. Trim, weed, mulch. It’s the October mantra, a gardener’s way of saying thank you and goodbye to the beds that have given so much food and pleasure. The mulch provides extra housing against the wind that will rage across our hilltop in November and the heavy snows that will follow. October is as busy for me as May, the month the gardens finally wake up from death.
Hagar is not interested in vegetables or flowers. And of course gardening is harder when you have an infant. My children seemed to have survived...