Itâ€™s not that I expected a lot from the new year. After all, I didnâ€™t even stay up until midnight to usher her in but so far, 2023 has given me a real run for my money and I donâ€™t even have any money.
It is still winter, that solemn part of it when the gaiety of Christmas is packed awayâ€”those vibrant decorations, all that bright red vanished from our walls, shelves, and fireplace, as if washed away by the rain. No more does a tree stand triumphantly upright in our bedroom, like a shining jewel box, yet secreting dark magical places. The children gone, I move from room to room in that deep January gloom sort of lost. The ceiling has sprung a leak that drips a staccato rhythm into the pan beneath and I rather feel as if I, too, am leaking a bit. Sometimes I come across an errant piece of festivity, a strand of ribbon, a small elf in the corner, pine needles, a champagne cork on the kitchen floor, and smile as I pick them up thinking, â€śAha! Christmas was here!â€ť
But now itâ€™s gone. Whatâ€™s there to look forward to? Taxes? Evermore mass shootings? A world without leonine David Crosby (even though heâ€™s he first to admit to being a jerk)? In addition to my unusual January blues, Iâ€™m saddened for my husbandâ€™s older sister, who has chosen to die rather than subject her compromised body to any more invasive procedures. We respect her decision. Yet when visiting her nursing home, I felt helpless in the face of the inevitable. We brought mundane thingsâ€”nuts, hand lotion, mail, pastries, a small mirror she requested and my constant bedside prattle, as if my cheerful chatter could keep death at bay.
I know of several dear Topanga friends who are also facing their own challenges and all I can say is thank God for Susan Clark. My own lion, the ageing cat is experiencing diminishing mobility, although he can still make it to the litter box, which is more than I can say for some people I know. The rain continues, rocks fall down our hillsides, mud washes over our roads, Topanga is closed, the drips fall steadily like tears, as if the sky is crying, my hair looks bad.
My carâ€™s been stuck at Pinetree Circle for days. Somethingâ€™s gone wrong with it. Although the engine revved a bit, it wouldnâ€™t engage. However, no tow truck driver wanted to brave our Canyon, insisting the roads were closed, even after they reopened. Finally, an intrepid driver took on the job. Although the car started right up, even accelerating a bit as if showing off, it was towed to our friendly, reliable Audi mechanic in the Valley. Heâ€™s the kind of a guy who proudly shows you the old broken, greasy, rusty worn-out parts he replaced, talking in car-speak, which I can never follow while trying to look on with admiration as he says, â€śJust look at this carburetor?â€ť Or â€śI pulled these old plugs out! And what about these burnt pistons?â€ť I smile while stepping over the oil pooling around my feet.
Over the years of tending to my cool 1995 Audi we trust him. But he really canâ€™t find anything wrong. After some minor repairs and figuring weâ€™re getting off easy I pick up my car, out on Sherman Way in the middle of late afternoon traffic.
When still in my twenties, I remember my dear mother, sagely pronouncing, â€śI know you will never die in a car crash because by now, you would have already done so.â€ť
Suffice it to say, I have never been at my best behind the wheel. In the old Driverâ€™s Education class in high school after my first turn driving, I so terrified everyone in the vehicle including the instructor I was relegated to the back seat for the rest of course. I just looked out the window. I went on to a career of calamity, an assigned risk, totaling a classic Karmann Ghia, a new Mustang, and a few years ago a Saturn Vue, when hitting a pothole in the rain on Old Topanga Road, swerving out of control, crashing through a wooden fence and coming to rest in someoneâ€™s front yard. Sometimes I dream of driving an out-of-control car.
So now, Iâ€™m heading down crowded Sherman Way, after exiting the repair shop and the car stalls. I restart it thinking maybe I just need to pump the gas a bit after it had been sitting in the rain. I make it several blocks when suddenly the vehicle accelerates, going faster and faster. I keep stepping on the brakes to no effect, like a bad dream. I am so afraid Iâ€™m going to run a red light, hit someone, or if I suddenly stop, the car behind will hit me and thereâ€™s nowhere to pull over. I begin to scream as Iâ€™m driving, commanding myself to, â€śStop the car! Stop the car! Stop the car!â€ť
Finally, thereâ€™s an opening in the parking lane and I swerve over, jam the gear into park and turn off the engine, which makes a rude noise. I sit stunned and shaking, the accelerating run-away car terror may have lasted just minutes, but it seemed hours to me. I thank what divine intervention helped me to pull over and shut off the engine, I certainly didnâ€™t do it myself.
Cold winds blow, the price of propane rises, my ravens are gone. They were a beautiful pair of birds, a couple I named, Beakster and Black Beauty who visited several times a day gracing us with their magnificent, mythic presence, but after the rain theyâ€™ve disappeared and I miss their magic.
On a Tuesday morning Sheila Anapol dies. I pull back the blanket and touch her cheek, still warm, â€śYou did it.â€ť I whisper.
As I write this, one young solitary raven lands on our roof.