Moonswans

Page Eighty-one

(a new post)      Saturday 29 January 2011   TF

In the continuing story of an Aspergian trying to have something of meaning…

When I got to be about 46, it suddenly began to invade my consciousness that I might indeed turn 50. You might question why I would find this notion rather surprising, but you would have to have lived my medical history to understand. For the first ten years of my life, multiple doctors had said that I was going to die. These were mainly allergists, but not exclusively. My parents and I got sick of it, and we never went to another allergist past the age of ten or so. But when I was 18 I was forced into it by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. They were considering paying for my bachelor’s degree, and they sent me on various appointments as part of their deciding process. The allergist said right to my face, and to my mother’s, that I would not live to be 21, to finish my degree, and he was going to recommend that Mass Rehab not waste any money on me. He said I was the most allergic person he had ever seen in his long career (all the others had said that too), and he didn’t understand why I was still alive to be sitting in his office.

So in eight long years, when I had gone from pre-pubescent child to late teenager and wanna-be college student, the story had not changed: I was allergic to the world, and I was going to die. Years passed, I kept doing the things I was doing, I kept having animals for all my born days, and plants, and eating stuff, and breathing pollens, and I kept living. But for my whole life, I never knew when it would all suddenly end. One fatal asthma attack. One fatal anaphylactic shock. And it could be caused by absolutely anything. From the age of four, I have always carried the knowledge with me that I am somehow living on borrowed time, that I’m somehow cheating something by still breathing.

So to realize that I might actually be alive on my 50th birthday was, in fact, a bit of a shock. And I started with all the female age-worries that are fairly common: I will have menopause, I will be dried up and papery, I will get white hair, there will be wrinkles.  And these things, quite frankly, nauseated me. And shocked me. I had never expected to on the planet long enough to become an old woman. For four years I mulled all these things over from time to time, and gradually there came to be a little excitement welling up beside all the demoralizing stuff: I will turn the big 5-0. Like so many other people. And like so many other people, there will be a celebration on that birthday that will be a little special, a little more than usual, a nod to making it to the half-century. And especially in my case, the family and very few friends will do something a little different, because I wasn’t supposed to live to be ten, much less fifty. And I, also, would treat myself extra well for that particular birthday.

That birthday came in January of 2003, and I was still, biologically speaking, alive. But my human family had imploded into a greater ugliness than there had ever been, and I, as the worst oddball and the worst teller of unpretty family truths and the most unappealing non-conformist, had been cut loose by all of them to twist in the wind with my below-p0verty-line income, and had been thrown back into the rental market by my mother with no more rent subsidy and all my animals. My father had died. I had one person that I thought of as a friend at that time, and several others that were at least good acquaintances. I had a kid in another state.

The day came. It was a Saturday. As the week had marched on toward that day, I’d checked the mail, I’d looked for notes left at my door while I was out (I had no phone). Nothing. Day upon day, nothing. But it’s not too late, I kept saying. The day isn’t here yet. And I couldn’t even treat myself like the dying girl who’d made it to 50, because money was tighter than ever. I’d quit my little part-time job the previous September, and hadn’t found a roommate to help me with expenses.

It would be tough for me to name one single worst birthday of my life, as I’ve had any number of really, really dismal ones, and there are several that tie for the honor of worst. The fiftieth was certainly one of those. Not one human being remembered me. Not one blood relation, not the one friend, not one acquaintance. No human being anywhere wrote or visited or brought a gift or a lousy balloon, or anything at all. The day the dying kid turned fifty got no special notice from any human creature anywhere. It got no notice at all.  It was one of the days, one of the very darkest, on which I lined up bottles of various potentially fatal pills and considered long and hard that I should swallow them. I very nearly did. As on other equally despairing occasions, it was largely looking around at my deeply loved animals that stopped me. Leaving them all alone to be killed, these souls that I loved so much, and who loved me, and loved each other. No, try to get through one more day. Don’t leave them yet.

Obviously I stuck around, and stuck around long enough for three vicious human females to totally destroy my life and have my animals taken away and eventually killed, a mere five years later. I’ve had many occasions to wish I had indeed ended the whole mess on my fiftieth.

But I didn’t. And if the human world ignored me on what should have been a special day, nature did not. Nature rose up in the splendor that only nature can produce, and gave me in the dark frozen morning the only gift presented to me on that day. I went out to the riverbank at five a.m. with my two male dogs for our usual morning walk. Eight or so inches of snow we had at the time, so the riverbank was white. It was well cold, and the water was almost entirely surfaced with ice. There was a full moon low in the west. I had forgotten about getting a full moon on my birthday. I had known about it, and then forgotten. All over the snow were black moonshadows of the bones of the bare winter trees, and shadows of my dogs and me. In the empty spaces, moonlight glowing off the snow, making the crystals glitter and outlining the fine surface etchings made by the wind.  I myself am overcome by such scenes, as I love winter. Snow, ice, etchings, glitter, shadows, moonglow off the snow. I felt as though I’d stepped into a fairy story.

We walked to the edge of the water. As if to convince me completely that I was in a fairy tale, I looked to the water and saw, very close to us, swans. This isn’t unusual at all now, eight years later, but on that day it had never happened before that I knew of. The Turners Falls swans had always stayed way over near the eagle island and Barton Cove, and I could only ever see them far in the distance. I’d been walking beside that river day and night for four years, and had never seen any swans except a way off.

And there they were. About eight of them. Lit up by the full moon. With them was Goosie, a friend of mine and of a number of other people in town. A domestic grey goose who in 2002 had gone wild and decided to live in the river with all of the wild water birds. She became the boss of the ducks. There she was, with about ten of her ducks, and these unprecedented swans. There she was with this prouder-than-usual look on her goose-face, as if to say: Hey, look at my new friends. They’re bigger than me. Aren’t they neat? I would watch her with various swans over the coming months, and they, despite their superior size, deferred to her just as much as the ducks did. She was now boss of ducks and swans.

It was so cold that the only unfrozen surface water was the little pool where the birds’ body heat was keeping the water fluid. I had a talk with Goosie. I maintained that day and have maintained ever since that those swans only came to that spot that morning because they came with Goosie. That it was Goosie who had brought me these swans for my birthday. This is how I think of it still, because it pleases me. Especially now that Goosie is dead.

I told my dogs all about the fullmoonlight we were walking in, and the moonshadows, and that Goosie had brought us some swans. As mesmerized as I was by this beauty, this wonder that I so often find in nature and in animals, I had to tear myself away. I had two more dogs waiting for their walk. The upside was that I got to come out into it all a second time, and then a third, and on the second trip I took bread with me for Goosie and her friends.

It’s eight years gone now, my fiftieth birthday dark, frozen morning when nature gave me a full moon and snow pictures and ice and moonlit swans for the very first time. But I can never think on that white-black fairy morning without tears, without grief for all the animals who were part of it, and without the same wonder and gratitude and even magic that I felt on the morning of a special day when all the humans turned their backs.

And I think on all the doctors of my life who told me the animals and the stuff out in nature were killing me. How many times over the years have I wanted to find them and sneer at them: How dense you are. It’s not animal dander and pine needles and maple pollen and everything else natural that’s killing me. It’s people.

If there’s anything that an Aspergian and atheist and nonconformist unloved specimen like me knows, it’s that you can always count on animals. You can always count on the natural world.

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