to risk


GOLDEN HOUR IS THE TIME when the heat of the day is at its apex here. Regardless the season it is when Pam pays homage to the spin of the planet and its last light for this latitude. The only thing that makes this late afternoon’s easing into evening different is that Pam doesn’t know the whereabouts of Gray. Pam was rarely certain before, either when she was left to guess where he might be or even when he would call to confirm.

Her knees make deep impressions on the pale green foam gardening cushion from which she rotates and lifts up with more grace than anyone watching would expect. Her shoulders are dark and freckled where the same might anticipate liver spots and others might expect surgical correction of the breakdown of her skin’s connective tissue around her neck with all her exposure to ultraviolet rays breaking down her collagen. But they would be mistaken. Pam appears immune to solar damage save the sun’s effect on her bronzing. She removes her gardening gloves revealing tan lines at her wrists, lines that used to be created by golf gloves, which she hasn’t worn all season until just a couple of days ago. It was last Saturday when she and Gray played the front nine at South Highland Country Club. That seems like months ago for Pam now.

She gathers her garden trowel and knee pad, a sack of soil conditioner and a bulb planting tool along with her gloves and carries the armful to the garden shed, placing each where they belong. Outside the shed on its northwest side is an old three-legged milking stool adjacent a potting bench. On it is the glass of diluted iced-tea she thought she would get to a little sooner, though she is not too late to watch one of most notable indications of the earth’s spin, the sinking of the sun over the range of vineyard covered hills. She lights on the stool and toasts what is left of the setting sun.

This routine centers Pam. Only one stool stands beside the potting table. She is the sole observer of sunsets at this home, even when Gray is there. She had asked years ago for it to be this way, her solitude and her salute to her vulnerability.

This is a ritual she devised after therapeutic sessions dealing with her sense of worthlessness, a mine attached to the bottom of her soul when her first husband left her for someone fertile. That is how she met Doctor Reagan, at the fertility clinic at San Mateo General, trying to understand whose side of the zygote tango wasn’t dancing. The heartbreak of her diagnosis did not register until her husband of eighteen months sued for divorce over her infertility. It was Doctor Reagan who introduced her to the heartache, a diagnosis from a series of blood tests indicating two abnormalities – a disruption in two critical hormones that stimulate ovulation, and a disorder induced by her autoimmune system that kills ovarian tissue.

With the golden hour into its final minutes, Pam goes in for the evening through the backyard entrance into the mudroom where she removes her clogs and wipes her feet and then into the kitchen where she pulls her cell phone from her front pocket and sets it on the granite, looking again, now at less frequent intervals, at the display. Only the time of day. No calls. No messages. Nothing from Gray.

It was Pam’s second visit, her insistence on a new panel of testing by a different gynecologist, someone other than an intern, that caught Gray’s attention. It was nothing out of the ordinary to have a diagnosis of an intern questioned, but the pathology on this is pretty cut-and-dried. When he caught word of the second lab request for this particular patient he broke protocol and found Mrs. Pamela Madsen seated in the clinic’s waiting room. It was there where he tried to explain the futility of her request, his best bedside manner employed, and it is there where Pamela melted down, the heartbreak of abject rejection, having been reduced to a sum of parts that could not procreate and therefore she was summarily ignored in her marriage. It was Gray who allayed her heartache, first as a physician in a clinical setting, then months later on a walking trail on Mount Sutro next to campus where he passed Pamela quite by accident.

Eucalyptus is the overwhelming olfactory influence on this forested tract of land in the middle of San Francisco’s urban sprawl. It is a refuge adjacent the campus of UCSF, a place where Pam walked and ran and worked on defusing the mines of depreciation still floating in her soul. She was single again and in her solo decided to enroll in university studies focusing on female fertility, complete her degree and then move on to graduate work. She failed to recognize him in her jogging descent of Historic Trail. Gray was much more casual in his walk going up, a sentimental journey for him in closing his residency and getting his degree. He stopped at an overlook where one can see the city across its financial district when she passed him by. He recognized her immediately, petite physically, pained emotionally, at least that is how he last saw her at the clinic. He was attracted to her then but had to abate her appeal while he tried to alleviate her anguish in facing the facts of her reproductive system and their consequences to her marriage.

Gray called after her and it took only once. She stopped and turned, easy to do with the momentum of a small frame. She recognized him, embarrassed a bit from their exchange a few months previous, but not so much to inhibit the progress of their meeting again. This time the auspices of their encounter were much more conducive to more of a relational outcome.

They found a bench and sat and talked, Pamela for the most part to Gray’s questions about her well-being, about the falling-out of her marriage, about her ambitions. The evening fog enveloped the Gate and rolled through to the city, leaving these two in a heightened state of isolation among the intensifying smell of eucalyptus near the top of Mount Sutro. Their walk together down the trail and into mist concentrated that feeling even more with wild cucumber and fringe cups dampening, joining the smell of the trees making quick connections through each other’s proximity, by each other’s company and the disclosures that took them well into the evening.

Their courtship lasted the rest of that summer and they were married at the Historic Presidio Golf Club with an intimate reception of close friends and family. Gray never being one to ignore the pragmatics of two birds and one stone, thought Uganda to be a fitting honeymoon. It was there where Pam’s sense of depreciation crept back in. While she was now married to a remarkable man and physician and her life had taken a turn to philanthropic service and adventure, her own direction had been sacrificed along the way, especially her formal education, though she would eclipse any accredited influence in developing her critical and wise approach to life. She gave up the very ambitions she talked about on top of Mount Sutro with Gray and in a way became absorbed by him, in the shadow of his work, Mrs. Gray Reagan.

Years of this would make it hard for Pam to maintain the identity she was creating when she was single the second time. To be solo, alone for her was to be all one, complete, invulnerable to any evaluation outside herself. Gray was never one to tell her otherwise. Her acquiesce to his direction was more passive, swept up in it, easy to do when one first falls in love. After Uganda, so early in their artificially matured relationship, Gray changed from her implications of his personality when they first met, of his character, of his benevolence, and it wasn’t long until she had less certainty about her second husband, and felt more vulnerable about herself.

It is that same genre of vulnerability that prevented Linda from getting pregnant again. It has kept Elaine from any committed relationship and Ian from pursuing any passion he once held before Virginia was born.

This evening Pam raised her watered-down iced tea to the setting sun and embraced her vulnerability. This ritual brought about through brainstorming with her therapist, to honor an act of human spirit that, no matter what happened, the sun would still come up – sometimes its only reassurance. “To risk,” she said aloud. The risk of speaking truth and acting out, the risk of daring questions and taking chances, the risk of staying without certainty, the risk of living with Gray.

From the kitchen Pam walks into the space she was considering a few days before, the gap still there waiting for the area rug.

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