... it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
- Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limon
I'd forgotten how much
I like to grow things, I shout
to him as he passes me to paint
the basement. I'm trellising
the tomatoes in what's called
a Florida weave. Later, we try
to knock me up again. We do it
in the guest room because that's
the extent of our adventurism
in a week of violence in Florida
and France. Afterward,
the sun still strong though lowering
inevitably to the horizon, I check
on the plants in the back, my
fingers smelling of sex and tomato
vines. Even now, I don’t know much
about happiness. I still worry
and want an endless stream of more,
but some days I can see the point
in growing something, even if
it’s just to say I cared enough.
- Trying by Ada Limon
The day that Crawford Chang officially opens for business ends with her and Billy crashing at her, (their) apartment with a few glasses of wine and some takeout menus Kat’s rustled up in between organising their entire filing cabinet and arranging furniture. Both of them are too tired to cook, not that she’s usually much of a cook anyway. Billy’s usually the one who does the cooking for the both of them.
“The new Chinese place on the corner looks good,” he murmurs, flicking through the menus with one hand, the other rubbing circles into her shoulder.
“Mmmm,” she sighs, leaning into the crook of his neck. “I’m too tired to think right now.”
“Okay,” he says easily, gently, “I’ll make the order. What are you feeling like tonight?”
“Whatever you decide. I trust you.”
His face blooms into a smile, gratified and proud but also like a kid who's just stolen some candy. Like what she's said is something he's not used to getting; some hidden treasure he's stumbled on that's unexpected and hard to find, that he doesn't fully believe is his. It's amazing how it changes his face. And also ironic that Billy Crawford who takes leaps of faith for her is someone who doesn't believe in himself.
He picks up the phone, dials and she lets herself float on the current of his voice. Being with Billy is like water, swimming through a clear stream, a lake shimmering under an iridescent summer sky. With him, she can let herself float adrift because she knows instinctively that he’ll anchor her so she won't drown.
“You know,” she says later, casually, when the takeout has come, “my father never brought home or took me out to Chinese food growing up. It was like once my mom was gone, the idea of Chinese food became taboo. Like if we ate it, then it would be a reminder of her and how she’d left us.”
Billy stops with his fork mid-air. “I’m sorry,” he says, pausing; his eyes gentle and so, so kind. He reaches over and squeezes her hand in reassurance and she loves how he's always so willing to hold space for her truths, how patient and attentive he is with them. How he doesn't push her for more.
“Here,” she says passing him the chopsticks. “I’ll show you how to use them.”
“Okay,” he says, smiling.
His first attempts are terrible and he gets food all over his tie but she insists through her laughter that she’ll get him a new one tomorrow. “Blue because it brings out your eyes. You look good in blue.” Billy Crawford is the kind of man who will wear blue every day for the rest of his life just because she likes how he looks in it.
Later in bed, just when he’s dropping off to sleep she tells him, “you know, when I last visited my mom, she gave me some things she’d thought I’d like to keep. One of them was a book of recipes, one that had been given to her by her mother and her mother’s mother before that.”
He sits up straight even though he’s already half asleep. “That’s nice. Are you going to make them?”
She smiles a wry smile. “I can’t read Chinese.”
“Like that ’s something that’s going to stop Joanna Chang when she wants something.”
“Yeah,” she says and she’s surprised by the burst of fondness that comes into her chest. “Yeah." She reaches out and strokes his hair back with his fingers. “Go to sleep, Billy.”
“Hey,” he says, but there’s no bite to it. “You’re the one who started talking to me just as I was falling asleep.”
“I know,” she says. And I’m sorry , she doesn’t say out loud. Because this is the only way that Joanna Hanley-turned-Chang knows how to do intimacy. But she’s trying, she’s trying and she’s glad that she has a man who won’t fault her for it.
The next morning during breakfast she allows herself ten minutes before researching her new case for a quick google search of some audiobooks she can use to learn Mandarin during her morning run. “Doing some light reading? Are you sure you aren’t coming down with something?” Billy jokes when he sees her on her phone instead of with her usual case files at the breakfast table.
Joanna makes a face at him. “I don’t always work in the mornings, Billy.”
“You were whispering case names under your breath earlier in bed,” he points out, “when I was trying to do that thing you like.”
"And you thought it was sexy,” she points out. "So that does not count."
Billy raises his hands in mock surrender and she grins with satisfaction because she really does love winning even if it’s silly arguments over breakfast. Billy knows that debates turn her on and he always indulges her.
Her attention gets caught then by the title of a book on her ipad. “Remember what we were talking about last night? Well, I’m doing it. I’m going to learn Mandarin. I remember eating this one food when I was a child. My mom made it for me for breakfast. It’s strange. I can remember perfectly what it was like, I can still taste it in my mouth but I don’t know its name or how to make it.”
“You will,” he says, reassuring. Because that’s who Billy is. God she loves him.
“ I think I can stretch this break just a bit longer,” she says, swinging herself into his lap. “Your reward.”
These past few years have taught her all about rediscovering history, the secret parts of it literally like a foreign-not-foreign language she has to decipher. A language that should be hers but one she doesn't feel like she belongs in. She'd said that to Billy one night in Millwood, as they'd sat overlooking the lake behind his cabin, the star strewn night sky stretching out above their heads. "Maybe being an adult is just digging up barrels of poison in your backyard and planting over that ground," Billy had said. The thing Joanna knows more than anything, is that there's no one else she'd rather be doing this reforestation (restoration) with than him.