I drive around having imaginary conversations with absent people. Sometimes I speak outloud into the stale air of the car. Often the conversations take place inside my head, while Joni Mitchell Blue repeats itself on endless loop in the single-disk CD player.
A few years ago, a woman whom I used to call “friend” announced that grief had a one-year limit. Look at me, she snapped. I used to be engaged. He dumped me. I moved on. A brittle light blazed in her eyes. I shook my head, unimpressed, unpersuaded.
Most often, the dialogues chronicle wrongs flowing in either direction. I recite the facts as I remember or romanticize them. Then I engage in endless lament of my remissions. Finally, I profess forgiveness of the other person’s role in the drama. The identity of the other character changes, depending on my mood and what small incident has triggered the flood. I suppose it’s therapy for me. I judge that these exchanges cost me less than a psychologist, but probably don’t work as well.
Or perhaps they work just fine. True confession: Most of the time, I fake my way through life, acting in a manner which I hope others perceive as normal despite my complete ignorance of that elusive condition.
Today I had a lengthy discussion with someone who might have offended me just the other day. I consider this a vast improvement over the broken record of conversations from my past lives and loves. This person maybe insulted me, perhaps rebuffed an offer of friendship, could have treated me with less than kindness. I’m not sure. But nonetheless I convened court over the matter on my way home from Lodi.
I spoke with eloquence, if only for the benefit of the women folk singers on the day’s playlist. I held forth in gracious form for several paragraphs before pronouncing absolution. After all, I concluded, as the strains of Sand and Water faded, if I behave no better than those who have hurt me, what right have I to stand in moral outrage? Moreover, we count our lives in days and hours, not centuries and millennia. Why squander them on something less than joy?
I came upon a raised draw bridge and stopped for the lowered gait. I strained to see the passing vessel. I saluted the tribute to a life tragically lost. Finally the barrier lifted. As I turned onto Brannan Island Road, I softly laughed into the empty car. The bright sunlight shimmered out on the river. Through the lowered windows, I heard the crows call to each other as they flew across the island. My spirit lifted. I stopped the car to admire an anchored sailboat, then continued around the loop and into the park.
It’s the twenty-fourth day of the ninety-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.