One Lone BirdPosted: May 24, 2010
I am sitting on the fourth row of tenuous makeshift metal stands, watching calf roping. The aluminum rows are not solid under my feet, they have some give, they slide when feet clang down on them and rock back and forth. Standing for the national anthem was like log rolling, so I clutched my seat and sat back down to steady myself. It is a May Saturday night, the heat wetting my skin, with beetles, moths, and other flying insects slamming against me, and I breathe in heavy smells of horse sweat and sour hay and adjust to the roar of generators that power the lights over the arena of plowed up mud and straw inside thin fencing. This mud/straw mixture is in such large chunks I worry about the footing of the horses that have to run through it, fearing they might fall and break a leg, or that a rider who dismounts might turn an ankle.
I have never been to a rodeo before. My first experience witnessing competition between man and beast is a happenstance, because somebody won a radio trivia contest and the prize was tickets to this small-town Lone Star Company set-up sixty miles south of Nashville.
In this event a calf is released from a pen and a rider on horseback charges out after it with a lariat, ropes it, dismounts the horse, and while the horse steps backward to hold the rope taut, the cowboy wrangles the calf to the ground and ties three legs to restrain it. I clap when the cowboy throws his hands up victorious to stop the clock.
The crowd is into this. There are little girls with French braids ribboned at the ends and pink boots and lavender hats, men in denim with big silver buckles, little boys in jeans and plaid shirts standing on barrels leaning against the fence like big men do. There are concessions with blue cotton candy and popcorn and fancy white cowboy hats with rhinestones in white and pink and purple that light up and blink and flash in rhythm.
Across the street behind the fire station an EMS helicopter begins to stir the heavy night air. Its noise draws attention from galloping horses and lost calves looking for an exit. I hear my son’s girlfriend say, Oh look, the helicopter is taking off. We’d watched it descend and land earlier. It lifts from the ground, its lights blinking red and white and green. The powerful noise overtakes that of the generator behind me, and I watch it lift above the building top and hover, then twist and turn in the opposite direction and gracefully rise up, sending fast and loud drumbeats in my direction. Hearing the blades beating the air and watching it rise against a background of black sky transport me to a different setting, one year, eleven months ago, when I watched another helicopter lift into a night sky, a three-in-the-morning sky. It is one of those “ambushes” that catch me off guard. I’m speared, held, forced into that other time. I cannot control the tears that fill my eyes and spill over and run down my cheeks. It happens so fast I cannot stop them, so I catch them and smear them with my fists, before anyone else sitting around me can see. My son pokes me in the back and starts telling me a story about something and when I turn toward him and he sees my eyes, he says, Why are you crying, and I mouth, Helicopter.
This is what grief is. I am that one lone bird rising up from it, hovering, twisting, turning, looking into an unending black sky, knowing that as far as I go out there, the loss will always be with me. I am out there where the sun never rises, where the air is cold, where there is no gravity, where I cannot see what’s ahead, where there is only the unknown. No one knows who I am anymore, where I am, or what I feel. I face the black alone. I push into it, like it has barriers, only it doesn’t.