Life, Winning


There are tears. There is trying too hard. There is caring too much about small, broken lives. There is the perfume gushing in the open car window, from black locust trees dripping with blossoms along the highway on my way home. There is an evening glow across tree-covered hills and partly-mowed fields.

A few hours ago, a young woman gasped and slid down the exam room wall to the floor, curled her knees to her chest and sobbed under the bench. Her dog was critical, I explained. Bleeding internally. He might survive if we gather ourselves and act.

I pull into the driveway. Beside our red barn, ostrich ferns curl fiddleheads, thick and unbidden, inside a disheveled stone-bordered bed. Next year we will eat them; they will always taste like spring. Unfurled, they invite our kids into imaginary worlds. They are the color of hope.

Caught in a car engine fan belt, the cat’s front paw dangled by a thread, bone jagged. Her wide lovely eyes, slim six-month-old shoulders, and softest long black hair contrast her grotesque injury. I bargain for her life, knowing prompt surgery costs the owners too much and costs the emergency hospital staff time that we don’t seem to have on this busy holiday weekend.

Two days before Memorial Day, frost singed our seventy tomato plants, which we’d planted with an eye on weather and too much optimism. I walked between their bruised-looking leaves, wishing them green. Regret tempted me to lie there among them in the dirt, feeling defeated. Within a week, though, fresh growth pushed from their shriveled tops—life, winning.

Two hours past my shift’s end, I have just made the last phone call. The overnight doctor, with her jaw set against her overwhelming task, has taken notes on all my hospitalized patients. As I’m leaving, a patient codes. I turn my back on the capable CPR team and walk out.

For our anniversary, we intended to buy a fruit tree, or maybe two to pollinate each other. I find myself digging seven holes—three cherries, two plums, two apricots—into hard, rocky soil behind the house. Together, we line the holes with black, composted manure from beside the barn. As the sun drops, we hold each young tree straight, tucking it into our lives. Relaxed in this work, we talk about how good it is to watch things grow, and how, someday, there will be fruit.



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