In the spirit of Alan Swallow’s Story “Golden Girl”
Nearly ten winters ago, I received a letter from my employers on Christmas eve that I would no longer be needed at my job, after having announced that they were looking forward to seeing me back in the office after a two-week holiday break, not uncustomary in the publishing business. What I remember is the sharp pain, after having read the letter, which cut through me as I walked back from the mailbox on the road, envelope in hand. With the amount of the enclosed paycheck from the last two weeks I had worked, along with the bonuses I had earned, I would be able to cover the costs of rent and bills for the month, then into the middle of January, however no further than that.
The holiday season, itself, acted as a kind of panacea. Although I practiced the art of frugality often enough, since I was devoted to being a working writer, who was either often enough unemployed, and between either freelancing assignments, or underemployed, and between jobs outside of my writing studio that often enough provided me with the grist of a post-doctoral course on the practice of humility, as well as a catch-as-catch-can existence, I made a point of waking up every morning in gratitude that I had two good feet to place on the wide-planked yellow pine floor and two fine arms to raise to the ceiling in praise of the grace of just being alive and well, in honor of the simple pleasures of being able to enjoy my meals and my friends.
However, in the evanescence of the passing of the holiday season, by mid-January, I felt the walls closing in regarding to even my careful allotment of funds to cover expenses. Even with my normal amount of fervent optimism, few employers were interested in hiring a white male who was nearly sixty. Not only the weight of financial responsibilities pressed itself upon me, with a stress that actually felt as if I were being crushed beneath it, but also a career of almost forty years that was passionately spent in pursuing books and publishing, on all levels and in every way, all seemed for naught.
The result of this was my fear of losing my living space, which I loved, in a refurbished farm house located amid Preserved Farm Land, but also for my becoming homeless in, of all seasons, winter in New England, where January can be harsh, but February characteristically guaranteeing a month-long deep freeze and at least one batten-down-the-hatches Nor’easter. So, I paid a visit to the person closest to me in the entire world, my lover who evolved into something undefinably beyond that—someone who I shared in being a spiritual steward with each other, someone in whom I did not have a conventional relationship but with whom I experienced, and delighted, in a mutually and psychically-intimate lasting bond.
Although I often scrupulously listened to her voice her own concerns and questions, regarding the practice and the path, and the mystical and the practical, when I visited her one January Monday afternoon, she knew something was amiss with me. After I informed her of my having lost my job, as well as when and how, the light in her face changed intensity, and I witnessed the determination infuse her visage. Within the weeks that followed, and which my friend informed me would occur, she phoned everyone she was aware of who knew me in conjunction with the local library, and queried them as to whether they would send me an anonymous donation through the mail to assist me in weathering at least the winter, to help me to keep the fierce winter wolf from my door until I could possibly find work in the spring, to be able to keep warm behind the door of my home.
For days on end and for several weeks from early February onward to mid-April, anonymous cards and letters, without return addresses, arrived, in ones and twos, and sometimes even in threes, in my mailbox, bearing amounts of one or two twenty dollar bills, or an unaddressed check for twenty-five or fifty dollars, with which I paid my rent and covered my expenses. This was the miracle of an extraordinary friendship and the miracle of the mailbox, whose karma reversed itself in having initially borne the news of a lost job into provisions of many gifts of sustenance and support.
Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series; and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature, winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize. His poems appear in Commonweal, Rattle, and Transference.