First off, I must explain our early winter ritual of throwing our rotting jack-o-lanterns and spent decorative gourds and pumpkins into the wooded area that surrounds our house. The property in front of the house has a downward grade into a ravine, so to toss a pumpkin from the porch down the hill is a satisfying thing—even if it doesn’t burst, it bounces and careens, dodging trees and brush as it goes. So, every year we send our pumpkins merrily rolling just before pulling out the Christmas decorations. Generally, they serve as deer food, or to be experimentally poked by a stick at varying stages of decay by my daughter. The pumpkins, that is. The Christmas decorations are of a more permanent nature.
But in April of 2019, our pumpkin-tossing woods were ravaged by a tornado. This was, I’d like to mention, three weeks after the birth of our twin boys and one week after our smaller twin came home from the NICU, and I myself was already ravaged, plagued by postpartum depression and sleeplessness. Our lot in 2019 was the sort where people call you lucky because you manage to emerge from somewhat unlucky events mostly unscathed. After some career and financial disappointments early in the year came the dramatic and difficult birth of the twins, who, despite placental issues, were pretty much okay, though the small one was half his brother’s size and would require extra medical attention for another year and a half. So, though my husband swears that he was taught in school that no tornado could traverse the Blue Ridge Mountains and reach us, when it did, it seemed not odd, but inevitable—of course, we were the sort of people who got directly hit by tornadoes but emerged unharmed. The luckiest of the unlucky.
Though the tornado managed to miss our house, it destroyed those front woods, downing almost all of the mature trees and sending a few of them onto our roof, which wasn’t fully repaired for months. We spent several weeks at my in-laws’ house, then a few more weeks at home with the tarp that protected the smashed roof overlaying all of the front windows. What little light filtered in was dark blue and gloomy—it was a summer of darkness, one where depression overwhelmed my body and I felt like I could not stop weeping.
But late that summer, a sliver of light cracked through. Vines had begun to crawl through the front yard where the woods had been. The lack of trees created a sudden blast of sunlight, and for that one year the conditions were perfect for an accumulated five years of pumpkin and squash seeds, which had waited patiently in the dark, to burst forth. There were all types—typical jack-o-lantern pumpkins, the mini boos in orange and white, those tiny bumpy ornamental gourds you find in mesh bags at the grocery store before Thanksgiving, and some strange hybrids I’d never before seen. Through late summer into fall, after the babies went to sleep for their first night-time stretch, my husband, daughter, and I would hunt in the brush for new squash—a pursuit that seemed impossibly bright and whimsical during those hazy, dark days. Surely this was a sign that our trials were over. And it was true that the rest of that year seemed to look up. The roof was fixed, I went back to work. The postpartum fog receded, and though I still never slept, when people asked how I was, I said, excitedly, “I’ve regained my will to live!”
Of course, very few stories of 2019 end with neat and happy 2020 wrap-ups. COVID lockdowns began a couple of weeks before the boys’ first birthday. Again, the misfortune seemed like it had been inevitable, except now the whole world had gone awry, not just ours. We experienced yet another type of luck, safe on the island of our four acres, watching while the world went berserk all around us. Old routines developed into new routines, children grew impossible amounts, sleepless nights came and went and came again. I learned to arrange Zoom and video shots around disastrous messes, and made pancakes and waffles morning after morning, until none of us could stand them anymore. Time passed without passing, imperceptibly things changed.
And I find that it is more than halfway through 2021, at a time when it seems like hope exists only to be torn down, where I dare not wake up in the wee hours for fear that existential dread for my children will occupy my mind. It sometimes feels as though the darkness of that summer of 2019 never truly ended, even though the roof has long been repaired and the windows, no longer shaded by trees or tarp, stream sunbeams.
And yet, as another summer dies out, there is growing in the flower bed in front of the house one huge vine, which has produced one single, bumpy squash in an odd color of pale orange yellow. I don’t remember buying anything similar, so from where the seed came that produced it I have no idea. But despite its ugliness, there is an air of enchantment about it–its unlikely germination, the huge leaves opening to the sun, the curly tendrils stalking across the yard. It burst forth from nothing, it thrives on little. I tell my daughter to sing to it, I will it to grow. Breathlessly I check for it every morning, as if my survival depends on it. And, admittedly, my superstitious mind believes this to be so. Somehow it is here, right now, and despite everything, it grows with abandon, with tenacity, with optimism that the world isn’t out of luck yet. And magical thinking or not, I believe it.