by Jeff Oaks
As an exercise, I’m trying to write 30 short essays in 30 days. My hope is to write an abecedarium, but really it’s a chance to test my resources a little, push myself into a corner, and see what happens.
Everything doesn’t fall far from the tree. Everything starts from somewhere. Before America, there was a woman who was curious about what lay under the world she lived in, who pulled up a tree and found that there was a world below her world, which now didn’t seem so paradisical, so only-this. When she asked the others about it, they pushed her down the hole she made and then put the tree back into place behind her. She fell and fell and fell toward the new world. Some birds saw her coming and caught her. Then the swimming animals had a contest to see who might dive the deepest and pull up some soil upon which the woman might begin to live. They spread out the soil on the turtle’s back and made the earth, where the woman invented us. At night, you can look up and see the fruit of the original tree she pulled up, globes of light, the fruit of the gods whose roots she wanted to know.
Many things have to be pulled out of the air, where they flower, where they grow like balloons being slowly inflated by the tip of a branch. Sometimes a word will appear to you in the shower, almost out of nowhere it seems. Sometimes it drags along a sentence or two. You stand there, repeating it to yourself, staring at the showerhead whose spray of warm water hisses and slithers down your face. Steam rises up around you standing there repeating the words to yourself like a song at first, then like a spell you want to write down, then like something else, the beginning of something, work. Some people keep pads and pens everywhere, just in case. You never know.
Everything seemed theirs, when the Europeans came here. It was everything they’d wished for all their lives: a land before Eve fucked everything up with her disobedience. And what they ended up creating was a land of disobedience.
This winter I ate a lot of apples. Maybe a bushel, one a day at least. I learned to make Apple Brown Betty, Apple Crisp (with cranberries and walnuts), and Baked Apples. I peeled and sliced apples and sprinkled a little sugar on them at night. In the morning I ate them raw with slices of cheddar cheese. I was trying to get myself away from devouring processed foods, from the cakes and pies I would buy at the supermarket after a long day of work and eat until I was sick. Eating like that was masking a certain kind of unhappiness I have with myself for not having managed to become the god I was sure when I was a teenager I would be by now. Apples were my intermediary. I took my time in the supermarket looking for my favorites–Macintosh, Fuji, Granny Smith.
Apple is of course also a corporation now, and it’s probably not a coincidence that I own several of its products. I’m typing this on one of them now. Its logo is an apple with a bite taken out of it, in remembrance of our mother who fell out of what had seemed like the only possible world, who until then thought a garden was the world.
I have not yet said too that my own mother is dying. Stage four lung cancer in her liver, in her bones. This too is part of the reason I’ve been eating so many apples. For one, her disease makes me aware of my own health and how much I’d like to preserve it. Diabetes (which she always calls Sugar) is everywhere in the family. Because I’m at the end of our family branch (the last child, gay, no children), I’ve seen everyone else grow fat, sick, fail. I’m the last witness, the one who might be able to change. Apples made you immortal in Greek myths, in Norse myths, which were the myths of my childhood.
I drive down to visit her and my brother. I make her extravagant salads with fruits and nuts that TADA! keep her blood sugar levels down. We laugh and talk about the past, trying still to unravel old mysteries. I ask her to tell me the histories of people in old photographs. Sometimes I remember to write them down but mostly I just like to hear her tell the stories she might never have told anyone before, since nobody in our family tends to ask about the past for fear there will be pain there. Nobody but me apparently, who came late and by mistake into their fellowship, and has been forever, it seems, trying to catch up, to learn whatever it is they know.
Before, you know, it’s all gone. The gates closed. All those orchards empty.