Our front porch is covered with wisteria, a jungle invasion at odds with the manicured lawns at our neighbors’ houses but somehow complementary to the flowering, resilient, eye-high weeds that welcome visitors to our house.
Erin came over the other night in her red strappy dress and high, urban heels to announce her engagement to Stephen. Erin, who I forced years ago to call me Cousin, even though she’s technically Greg’s cousin and only, therefore, my cousin-by-marriage. My cousin-in-law. As though family should ever be so narrowly defined. I earned it, I told her after sitting vigil by her bed in the Intensive Care Unit, crocheting row after row after row of snowball afghan, praying with every other sweep of my wrist that she would live. God, let her live, I prayed with the ventilator down her throat and her mama sitting beside me.
When she woke up days and days later, I said, Enough. Enough, Erin. There will be no more cousin-in-law crap from you. Understand? No. More. From now on, you will introduce me as your cousin. Not your cousin’s wife. From now on, I am Cousin. And that is all. And she knew I meant to say, You terrified us, Erin. You terrified me. Stay with us. Stay. And I love you love you.
She said, Okay.
Erin, my cousin, came over the other night in her red strappy dress and high, urban heels to announce her engagement to Stephen. And I WOOHOOed the way she knew I would. We sat on my back porch together with kids running wild and filthy around us until the thunder started and we moved to the front, under cover of the wisteria jungle, safe from the rain and lightening that never came.
Safe from the rain and lightening that never came.
The kids played with popsicles, swiping them on our arms and legs until I said, STOP and gave them the hairy, I-mean-it-this-time eyeball, and then they filled my empty beer bottle over and over with water, dumping it on themselves in classic frat boy fashion. I laughed right out loud just like I shouldn’t do, and they laughed with me.
It was the night before the shootings in Colorado. The night before another reminder that safety is an illusion and Bad Things Happen. And a big, fat robin kept flying over our heads, squawing at us gently, in and out of the wisteria jungle. In and out and in and out and in and out.
Erin packed up Stephen after the mosquitos started biting. And our other family and friends who’d wandered over for the fun in their sweaty workout clothes wandered out. And I was left to usher dust-covered children to bed, to bed. To shush them and wash them. To soothe them and bless them. To kiss them and put them to bed.
With their eyes closed and their breathing heavy and the air saturated with the imminent storm that refused to come – not yet, not yet – I headed back to the wisteria jungle to pick up the pieces of popsicle and to find the beer bottle half full of water and to see the robin flit-flitting in and out and in and out and in and out.
And of course, I thought.
Of course, Mama Robin. Of course you’re here in the middle of the jungle. In the middle of the unmanicured mess. In the middle of the chaos and the crazy and the uncertainty and the illusion of safety.
Where else would you build your nest?