I spent all of 2018 flying back and forth to Kansas City trying cases and closing out my law practice. A certain numbness settled over me. I wore a smile at either end of the journey. The friends who had populated my Missouri days provided berth and company. The judges thanked me for my service to their courtrooms. In California, neighbors whom I barely knew waved as my car pulled into its spot in front of my tiny house on wheels. The little succulents which I bought for a quarter at the semi-annual garage sale in a local over-55 community outgrew their coffee mugs and lifted thick fronds to the air.
In time, clutter began to fill the cupboards in my new home. Baskets appeared to hold household items purchased to replace necessities cast aside during my over-zealous downsizing. Carpenters remodeled my first floor and added to the narrow porch. One old comfortable porch rocker yielded to another. A hanging plant stand sprouted on the edge of my plywood 8 x 8 deck. Then that deck got cut a few feet to yield to a neighbor’s need for utility access.
My writing loft morphed into a small bedroom. Across the air, dust gathered in the sleeping loft as the pandemic and his own obligations suspended my son’s annual visits. I found a couple of cabinets, one maple, one crackled decoupage, to hold bathroom sundries and wineglasses. On a trip back home, I unearthed art pieces that I thought had vanished and rescued my grandmother’s jewelry box.
Now I cast my eyes about my world and wonder if I should drag a couple of boxes into my house for a new round of divestiture. In the mornings I stand with coffee staring at the overgrown plants, eager for warm weather and a bag of fresh potting soil. The twenty-one inches of hanging clothes space spills over into the room, taunting me, urging me to pare down my embarrassing sweater collection. An uneasiness overtakes me.
A few months after I moved to California, one of my tonier colleagues at the Jackson County, Missouri family law bar set a cup of coffee down in front of me at counsel table. I watched a couple of your YouTube videos, he remarked. So, what’s it really like, living in a trailer park?
I studied his face, assessing the sincerity of his interest. I sipped the hot liquid, letting its steam rise into my face. I closed my eyes, reflecting on my hours of driving around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, across Andrus Island, over the Georgiana Slough, through Walnut Grove and the little town of Isleton.
The sights of my adopted home flickered before me like a well-worn family video. The snow geese rose and made their way from one field to another to satisfy some inexplicable instinct. The egrets stepped behind the tractor as it cut its culvert through the harvest. Below the levee road, hyacinth floated downriver. Seals swam from the brackish water through the steady stream of the east-flowing rivers. The old couple walked down Brannan Island Road, lifting their hand to my passing car. Hawks dove into the low-lying branches. My little house crouched in the middle of a row of other tiny houses on a broad circle at the west side of twelve wooded acres. Waves of amber light streaked across the sky as the Delta wind buffeted the boats docked for the night and tied against the pier.
I opened my eyes. The lawyer waited, tapping one foot in its gleaming buffed leather. I smiled.
It’s exactly like you would think, I told him.
It’s the eighteenth day of the ninety-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.