What did I carry in my medicine bag? There was a coat my mother kept in the space behind the back seat of her Volkwagen bug. The car was pumpkin, the coat avocado, the flagship colors of the early sixties, and until I was 11, that coat, in that tiny bathtub-shaped space behind the back seat, under the sloping rear window of the bug, was the promise of warmth when the chill of fog or my mother's mood made me feel trapped in gloom. Like a teddy bear I could climb inside of, in a space I could fold myself up and disappear into, the coat, woven of bumpy tweedy yarns, with a torn, rootbeer colored satin lining, (blessedly already torn, so I never had to worry that I'd torn it) and three pine-green buttons the size of checkers, Mom's old coat never failed to make me feel all was, if not now, then very soon, right in the universe, or at least my corner of it.
When Mom moved us, against Dad's resistance, and threats to take her to court, from San Francisco to Davis, a college town in the Sacramento Valley, the Volkswagen got left behind, and, without discussion, so did the coat. When I complained, she seemed to have been unaware of my relationship to it, and only showed that slight, private joke of a smile, that seemed like a sign that the psychology of her children was a source of entertainment. It had been a practical thing, to keep my brother or I warm should we run out of gas on a trip into the mountains, say, or even along the fog-bound coast. The coat, out of fashion, and in need of repair, had been tossed in the back instead of being donated to the Salvation Army. The idea of us loving it, for I know my brother did as well, and resented that I could still fit into the back space when it could no longer house his long legs, came to her as a shock. But I can still feel it's weighty, calming mass draped over my knees-up body, and sometimes, over my heavy-eyed head, as I fall asleep in the cave of the coat, safe from whatever my mother is driving away from, and whatever it is, like a wild-eyed cat with sharp claws drawn, that follows her wherever she goes.
In Davis there are little streets with giant trees whose branches meet overhead, shading you from the sun that bakes you all summer long, and ripens the miles and miles of tomatoes that stretch out from the edge of town, until the walnut and almond and cherry groves start, at the foot of the gentle Coast range. I am riding my bike, everyone has a bike, through the dappling rhythm of sun and shade on my way to the park where the swings stand on the crest of a tiny hill, like windmills, and there is usually nobody there. My brother is angry, he is always angry, though sometimes electrically charged with ideas, of what he's inventing, or fixing, or making, but lately it's steady, like lava gurgling under the ground under the floorboards in the kitchen, his broken heart, feeling betrayed by Mom breaking her promise that if he didn't like it after one year, we'd move back. I try to stay clear, but the house seethes with their stand-off, and whenever I can, I come here, to the swings, and drink in the weightlessness at the end of each arc, pumping my legs, getting higher and higher, into the darkening sky. Redwing blackbirds are swooping, and then come the bats, and I swing and I sing, in the peace of the rocking, and the sweet prolonged moment of suspension, when I feel I could let go of the swing and fly out into the blue grey sky.
On the steep side of Filbert Street, looking down at the wharf, grew a century plant, I think it was, whose thick, thorn-edged leaves rose upwards like geysers, defying gravity, until they couldn't rise higher, and fell back to Earth, the whole dance of which was evident as I gazed at them. I had been in ballet since I was small, but only recently had been introduced to modern dance, in which my own sensations mattered, a revelation, a revolution, and it was, above all, the rise and the fall, the feeling of it, the knowing of it, that was the poetry of this dancing. I have climbed the steps up Filbert street and stand, as I do whenever I have an afternoon free on one of the weekends I am back in San Francisco, studying the century plant's poetry of rising and falling. Over time I have built up the attitude that it doesn't matter what anyone passing by or looking out their window thinks, and I describe with my body what I see the plant doing. I am suspended out of time, feeling like the water in a fountain rising and falling at the same time, yet going nowhere, feeling my arms and spine rise and then turn earthward, and feel I could remain, like the leaves of the plant, for a century, if need be. In the years ahead, it will be this movement that I return to in my dancing, like a healing spring I always know how to find.
There were medicines that worked for years, but no longer: the vanishing point of a stretch of empty highway cresting a hill up ahead, a juke box with Otis Redding singing "Dock of the Bay", watching Casablanca for the umpteenth time. Now, it's the melting of the horizon, where the sea meets the sky in a hazy band of a nameless shade, that is the medicine that never fails to right me when I'm off.