It’s barely 6am as the sun begins to peek over the tops of the trees. Geraldine carefully tiptoes in her slippers into the dark sun room with a steaming mug of hot coffee. She doesn’t turn the lights on. She slowly sits onto the leather couch that is covered in an Australian animal hair rug and leans back. Surrounded by glass walls, she stares into the darkness.
It’s drafty in the uninsulated room, but the crisp air just makes Geraldine pull her plush bathrobe tighter around her like a blanket. She takes a deep, long pull of the air through her nose, and lets it out slowly. She can smell the potting soil of the five giant, majestic palm trees that have taken over the room before the frost kills them outside. Purple potato vines bush out around the base and reach down for the floor from their pots. Three occupy a corner, and the other two have found a home in two others.
Geraldine finds she is surprised at the thought that she wouldn’t mind if they died. They take up so much space in this room and block the views. They are also needy. They need to be watered everyday and they need to be trimmed back. They need their droppings picked up or the dirt from watering backsplash to be wiped or vacuumed. She has to make sure the dogs won’t eat the vines in case they are poisonous.
Her slow inhalation felt so good she does it a second time, but this time inhaling the coffee vapors from her mug, letting the warm air soothe her nostrils as the sun gently lights up the backyard forest of trees. They are changing colors right now, some from dark green to yellow or red, while others are already brown. Her favorite stays steady green all year. He has long, pointy leaves that sway beautifully in the wind the way a model’s hair does when placed next to a fan. He also has a new rope swing from one of his branches, where Geraldine’s girls spend hours swinging and dramatically singing to themselves in the breeze.
Today is her birthday. Geraldine thinks that perhaps normal people wake up excited and ready to enjoy a whole day that is focused on celebrating her year around the sun. But she isn’t one of them. Every year she wakes up and spends the day fighting existentialism every time someone says “Happy Birthday!” to her. She watches the birds flit around the backyard as she takes another sip of coffee. Why do they get to be alive? They zoom from tree to tree in a sunrise frenzy, the noise of the flock a cacophony of chirps and noise that remind her of a elementary school yard at recess. She checks her watch to make sure it isn’t time to wake the kids yet. She wants a few more minutes sitting adjacent to nature. A part of it, but not quite.
She can’t help but think about the past year. She’s not a fan of relishing or spending time in the past. She likes to think about the future and it’s possibilities, but there is something about birthdays that forces her to look back at the time she’s spent alive and what she’s done about it. That is usually sobering as she considers how little she has spent doing humanitarian work or making the world a better place than when she leaves it.
However, there is the fact that she works hard on raising good human beings that will be kind and open-minded. She works on making sure they won’t be part of their selfish, technology-oriented generation that believes the world revolves around them (as if they were the sun and everyone else twittering birds!). They are respectful. They understand how important it is to read a freaking room. They consider other people’s feelings and can empathize when necessary, without giving up parts of themselves. They are learning boundaries, and to Geraldine, this is a great work, and her annual worries about how she is contributing to the world ease a bit.
A red fox darts out of the bushes that surround her property. He’s on the other side of the tall chain link fence that is meant to keep out deer, but doesn’t. She has seen this beautiful creature before with his large bushy tail. She worries for a minute about her tiny Yorkshire terrier, but knows if he had the chance, he’d run after the much bigger fox with such force and a loud bark that it would scare the creature away. After all, the tiny dog does it to families of deer, so why not a lone fox?
Geraldine finishes her cup of coffee before it gets too cold and considers another one. But that means getting up and making it. She wishes she had brought a pot in with her so she could sit here longer, until the sun reaches high into the sky and wakes everyone up so she doesn’t have to do it herself. It’s her birthday after all, where is the breakfast in bed? Or better yet, coffee in the sun room? Alas, her greatest birthday wishes are dependent on others, and she continually decides to make them happen for herself rather than ask. It’s almost easier. It’s definitely reliable.
She glances out at the run down tennis court on one side of her backyard. She wonders if it was loved once. With the tall spotlight surrounding it, she thinks it was intentionally put there for two people to practice the sport, either for the love or exercise. Or for each other. Did they have white outfits they wore while they played? Did they have to pick up all the tennis balls before the lawn was mowed? She likes to think the couple who installed the court played every night after dinner. They would change and stretch, circling their arms around and twisting their bodies to warm up. They’d take sips from their cocktails, roll their shoulders, and take their places on the court. If it was late in the year like it was now, they’d have to turn the bright spotlights on. The idea of it already hurts her eyes and head, so Geraldine turns her gaze to the small green house next to the court instead.
The moldy green greenhouse is hidden by an overgrown wisteria vine that hangs so heavy Geraldine has to bend over to get through it and into the greenhouse. But that doesn’t bother her much since she doesn’t go into it often. Right now, it’s packed with so many pool floats and supplies that she couldn’t enter it even if she tried. She should cut back the vine, but she loves how beautiful it looks for about two weeks in the spring. But then it starts to smell awful for a month after, like rotten garbage cans that have ripened to a worse state in the sun. She tries her best not to go near them then, especially because the flowers drop to the ground and turn to a slimy film.
Nothing stays the same. Beautiful flowers grow and wilt and die. That is all they do, other than provide nectar and shelter for the tiny creatures. And the delicate bird just chirps, the gorgeous foxes run around the woods all day, and the elegant deer stick together and eat. They are simple. They don’t have much meaning or purpose to their days other than to live and do their own thing and die. Most of them don’t go remembered or have names or contribute very much to the world they live in.
This thought makes Geraldine turn her thoughts elsewhere. The sun is high above the trees now and the dogs are barking to be let outside of their crates. The kids need to wake up in order to be on time for school. Geraldine watches the birds continue to chase each other gleefully around the yard and wishes that was all she had to do today, too. Worry about just today. Not tomorrow, not yesterday or the day before. She’s not a here-and-now person, but there is something so simple about nature that reminds her that that is what life is about. Being present and enjoying the moment here and now. Greeting each day with a new or renewed sense of purpose, or whatever one may choose.
Geraldine thinks she can handle that. She’s had many years of experience waking up to new days and new places, but this room, this home, is one of her favorites. Quiet, dark, slow, and with a good cup of coffee. As she contemplates waking up earlier each morning to enjoy this peace longer, she watches a bird land into the small ring of water on the pool cover, splashing it wings and puffing out its feathers. A few of his friends join him, and together they bathe in the morning sun, cleaning their gray and brown feather, and letting the cool water slide down their tiny beaks. So simple.