Sometimes, when the days drag in, drag out, drag on, I feel as though I’m not a fire but a stone. When my boss asks me if I heard about the earthquakes that shook our town on Tuesday, I tell him, “No.” And I certainly did not feel them. I grew up in Southern California. It’d take quite a tectonic shift for me to feel a thing.
They came from Mt. Hood, these earthquakes, he tells me, and I suggest the mountain is going to erupt. He says, “Oh, it will. I’ve known that my whole life,” and I think, What a strange thing to know. At work, I’m calling cemeteries, trying to send them information on equipment neither they nor I care about. I think, I can’t be calling cemeteries. I haven’t even lived. Bury me, I want to tell them. Bury me and bring me back to life because I don’t see how I can go on in this half-alive condition.
Sometimes, when the days drag in, drag out, drag on, I wish Mt. Hood would erupt. I think of what I’d throw in my car if I had to evacuate: laptop, books, running shoes, enough clothes to keep me warm, perhaps the stuffed dog I’ve had since childhood and the Garfield that belonged to my grandma. That’s it. I can’t decide if I should be hailed for my lack of materialism or pitied because I own virtually nothing worth holding onto.
I’d leave you at a rest stop a hundred miles outside of Portland, roll down the windows and scream you from my mouth. How many men have I screamed from my mouth? More than I wanted to, and it never works. After I left you there, I’d drive to Lookingglass and run. Could you blame me? Population eight hundred and fifty-five, not counting the sheep. If I kept running, how long would I survive? I’d run out of Lookingglass eventually. Would I end up in Wonderland? Would you be there to meet me? I doubt it. It’s incredible, the things human beings can survive.
Sometimes, when the days drag in, drag out, drag on and on, I go to work and come back home and accomplish nothing all day long. I go to bed too early and wake up in the dark, still exhausted. I can’t even sleep correctly anymore, and everything I eat weights in a pit in my gut. Everything I look at hurts my eyes.
Three days after the rumble, Mt. Hood is hidden behind clouds, when mere weeks ago, the sky was clear and cold, and it was as visible as a hand held in front of my face. It’s getting warmer. Winter is almost over. Was it even here? I love that season, but this year, I think, Dear God, just get me out of February. As though spring holds all the answers. Or maybe I hope the warmth will stir the mountain’s volcanic belly and wake what’s long been dormant, erupting it all over our small lives.
Sometimes, when the days drag in, drag out, drag on again, things happen without me noticing. Like the geese leaving. They’re gone. When did that happen? And then, the crows came, along with the robins and so many seagulls. Everywhere I look, there are seagulls, and they’re screaming for an ocean they think they’ve lost. I understand. All I wanted was a real river, and I got the Willamette. Every time I pass it, I grow more and more resentful of so much stagnant water.
Maybe nothing will ever be the way I imagined it. Maybe no one who doesn’t know me will ever read my books, maybe no man will ever love me for more than a few months, maybe no amount of training will enable me to run for longer than ten minutes without stopping, and maybe I’ll never make a lasting impression on anyone or anything on this earth. Well, all right, then. Maybe writing, men, running, and life will never look the way I thought they would. Maybe my volcanoes will be cold mountains and my oceans stagnant rivers. Maybe I choose to love them anyway.
Sometimes, when the days drag in, drag out, drag on, and drag again, the only way to survive them with anything like grace is to find joy in the split seconds. I slept for eight hours. This morning’s banana was at the perfect stage of ripeness. This afternoon, I could see the snowy peak of Mt. Hood from the office, and this evening, I ran for ten minutes without stopping. One time, right here, in this very spot, you kissed me. All winter, I looked out this window and saw dozens and dozens of geese flying past.
You don’t know what it is to quake with lava pent up inside you. What have you ever loved so much you’d let it kill you before you’d live without it? Loved in stolen minutes on your lunch break, in the first undercaffeinated moments of morning, when you come home from work braindead and exhausted, during the last hours of night when you don’t even have the energy to put yourself to bed. Loved when it doesn’t love you back and keeps not loving you back, and every second, you wonder why you ever loved it in the first place and why you continue to love it despite its surly behavior. Loved it anyway, in spite of everything.
Sometimes, when the days drag in, drag out, drag in, drag out, life tries to take the things I love away from me. I don’t want to keep loving them, but then I do, and then I tell myself to love life for trying to take them away. To love life for the pain it causes. Maybe that pain is what helps me figure out what I really love and what I only think I love. Maybe I owe life for that lesson.
Mt. Hood has been a volcano all along, did you know? It hasn’t erupted in a hundred years, and maybe that’s why we think it’s just a mountain. But it’s not. Once something burns with fire, it can never go back to being rock. I know. Even if the scientists were to storm in and tell me that I am now and will forever be a mountain, I would have to tell them, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I am and will always be a volcano, even if I never erupt again, and they are wrong.