We didn’t expect the ripping, the falling, the afterwards, but it happened just the same.
Tim grilled the chicken he’d been marinating all day while I made a kale salad with a honey dijon dressing. I warmed up some leftover pasta, put canned mandarin oranges in a bowl, grabbed a loaf of homemade bread from the day before and brought it all outside to the table under our pergola.
The younger two kids jumped on the trampoline, letting out screams and squeals as they played their made-up games. Our oldest son stacked old pallet wood and twisted newspaper to make a fire in the new pit my husband had assembled a few weeks previous with cinderblocks and pavers that past homeowners had left in nooks and crannies of the yard.
Everything was green and blooming and the wind had stopped blowing just enough to give us a break from the pollen. We didn’t bother with knives for the chicken and took bites out of full breasts, licking our fingers without worry. Everything tasted fresher in open air and I wished there was more salad. The sun was slowly sneaking away as my husband turned on some music and we settled in to the chairs around the fire.
We’d been self-quarantining, social distancing or sheltering in place for over 3 weeks. It was a Saturday and we were doing our best to entertain ourselves after the monotony of school and work from home all week. We were clinging to our joys desperately and hoping to forget the limbo-esque uncertainty that pressed hard against the transparent bubble of peace around our home and yard.
And it was working. Our kids sang along to the music and danced in the dirt. My husband smiled at me when he caught me watching the way the flames flickered highlights across his face and made the hair cascading from the bottom of his ballcap and resting on his shoulders look more caramel blonde than brown. I glimpsed a muddled moon behind the clouds as I swirled vino in a stemless turquoise glass. I felt happy.
Slowly, the air got colder and made us want to cuddle. My daughter and I pulled the hammock stand with the sun-bleached rainbow hammock over to the fire. My youngest son grabbed a blanket from the house and the 3 of us cocooned together as I swung us back and forth with my feet pushing off the cool edge of the cinderblocks. I kissed their heads and asked them unimportant questions just so I could soak in their voices.
I stole a quick picture in an effort to capture the peace we had managed to create just below the surface of this unprecedented pandemic and then we continued swinging, even though it was way past bedtime.
My first memory in that hammock is a cool summer evening in North Dakota. It was our 6th wedding anniversary and I had begged Tim to let me purchase it as a gift. We put our 5 and 2 year old babies to bed and Tim grilled steaks and asparagus. We ate on our plastic folding table on the back patio, and then swung in the hammock together while it got dark.
The hammock went with us to 2 more houses and all the way to Texas. Over the years, I rocked my babies and then my big kids in it. I watched them play while I read a books or sipped a smoothie. Even the dogs liked to climb in now and then. It was a simple thing, but something about the way it held and rocked me always helped me find a sense of peace.
It felt like it happened in a slow-motion instant that you remember better than you actually experience it.
It sounded more like a faucet turning on and then off that an actual rip, followed by my daughter crying and my son frantically repeating that he didn’t mean to do it, all of us tangled in a mess on the ground. I felt stuck there, trying to process what had just happened, like someone had paused life and I was waiting for them to push play again. My oldest son and husband weakly attempted to hold in their laughter and then tried to untangle and pull us all up.
Our perfect evening came to an abrupt halt.
After getting kids settled and changing out of my smoke saturated, dirt covered clothes I thought about a phrase I had been hearing people say over and over on social media, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”
Just moments ago, swinging in THAT hammock was normal. It had been normal for 6 years. But that would never be normal again. That hammock had served it’s purpose, slowly stretching, weakening and finally breaking completely.
In that holy instant, as all instants are, life was altered. Not shattered, not ruined, just altered. We could never go back to that exact experience--that “normal” moment. We could either look at the pile of sun-bleached canvas, weathered rope and the pictures of smiling faces with longing, naively repeating over and over, “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal,” or we could pick ourselves up and go on.
My husband must have bundled up the torn hammock and placed it in a heap on a chair. I saw it’s slumped state the next morning as I sipped my coffee and peeked out the back window. “I should throw that away,” I thought, but I didn’t. At some point the dogs decided it was a toy and drug it around the yard like a prize. I saw it in one place one day, strewn from end to end, another place another day, a pile of stripes and memories. “I need to pick that up and get rid of it,” I would remind myself, but I felt no rush.
The following Thursday, the kids were outside early. They needed to start their schoolwork, but when I saw that they were working together in a productive way I decided to embrace this opportunity and enjoy the quiet.
They had gathered some old wood fence slats and a few cinderblocks and had plans to build some type of structure. They used a hole the dog’s had dug and filled it with water, straw and dirt. This would be their mortar to stick everything together. When they called me out to show me what they made, the colored stripes caught my eye. They had torn a rectangle from the old hammock. They were scrubbing it down with hand soap and water and hanging it to dry in the sun. The water made it look brighter than it had in a long time.
“What’s that for?” I asked, already grateful I had not thrown it out.
“It will be our door!” They said with pride and excitement.
I smiled without my teeth. The kind that isn’t for anyone else but yourself.
“I love that idea,” I encouraged as I snuck back inside and left them to their work.
After a few hiccups and the introduction of some twine and a tarp, they called me out to see their finished structure. They invited me inside and excitedly explained how they had turned forgotten, broken and unused things into their own little palace.
I marveled at the wisdom of children. They were not attached to what these things used to be or were supposed to be, only to what they could be. Where I saw a heap of memories and unused potential, they saw a heap of possibilities.
The following Monday, just like that hammock, the bottom ripped out of the oil industry and left millions of people laying in the dirt paralyzed and confused-- dumbfounded at what had just happened and unsure of what to do next. A collective grief hung in the air the way smoke does when there is no wind, burning your eyes, making you catch your breath and cough, flailing your arms because that’s the only thing you can control.
Entire communities of people that I loved examined years of memories and questioned the identity that they had created within the cocoon of the oil industry, the industry that had rocked and held them for so long.
We collectively mourned the loss of a way of life we knew would never be quite the same again and waited there on the ground in the dirt, stuck in pause, for someone to push play so we could move again.
Now, I feel like I am watching from my window as the torn industry gets strewn about the yard, never sure of where it will be day to day, clinging to the idea of what it was supposed to be and what it was for a while. I’m letting myself feel this odd grief, but not without a sliver of faith. A faith that each of us might re discover our childlike creativity and take the heap we find in front of us, wash it up and turn it into something we never would have seen otherwise.
And someday when our children ask us what we did when the bottom ripped out of the proverbial 2020 hammock, we can proudly remember that when we had the choice to throw it away or build with it, with pride we said, “It will be our door!”
Sending Love and Light to all my oilfield family.
You can find this print and accessories with this design on my new sister shop