by Lauren Rutten

“I dedicate all thought to union.” 1

This reminder appears on my iPhone at 9 a.m. every morning. I sit on my Grandma Helen’s rickety old metal chair with the pullout steps. The step chair that enables me to reach the flour and sugar on the top shelf of the cupboard. I lean back against the cold tile wall when the message flashes. Whenever I want to distract myself with Facebook or emails, this message appears as the activation button is pushed.

“I dedicate all thought to union.”

Union - noun 2

  1. the act of uniting two or more things.
  2. the state of being united.
  3. the process or result of merging or integration of disjoined, severed, or fractured elements, as the healing of a wound or broken bone, the growing together of the parts in a plant graft, the fusion of pieces in a welding process, or the like.
  4. the junction or location at which the merging process has taken place.


Synonym study

  1. Union, unity agree in referring to a oneness, either created by putting together, or by being undivided. A union is a state of being united, a combination, as the result of joining two or more things into one: to promote the union between two families; the Union of England and Scotland. Unity is the state or inherent quality of being one, single, individual, and indivisible (often as a consequence of union): to find unity in diversity; to give unity to a work of art.


Union has forty-five synonyms to consider as alternates. Join or merge seem readily interchangeable but would they change the meaning of this lesson I am practicing? I was never much of a joiner, and merging onto highways is always a challenge, but, maybe, this experiment will be enlightening.

8:00 a.m. last Wednesday.
I am the white frost coating the invasive weeds, garlic mustard, and ground ivy at the head of the driveway. The sun has not yet reached the edge of the property where my car is parked. I am millions of water molecules suspended in delicate fractal forms. Later, I will disappear in the warming air.

Beyond the railroad tracks glaring white hot, beyond the old winding road leading out of town, tucked between ridges of bare hillsides, I, a blanket of white fog, span a quarter mile. Find me where warm meets cool, night meets day, in a place called condensation. How many mornings have you chased me up and down the narrow roads in hope of taking my photograph, only to be foiled in my elusiveness.

I rise early with the sun, walking up Hill Street with the promise of catching a glimpse of myself hanging low against the French Broad. Where Hill Street and Skyway Drive meet, the fields fall away in layer upon layer of fading grass coated in frost. Far off is Starrett Mountain, where I have tucked myself into the northern face.

My dog, Asa, and I walk along a narrow gravel path around Blannahassett Island, avoiding deep rutted mud puddles left after five consecutive days of rain. F-150s and Foresters parked in the grass at last week’s art festival have formed these impressions. Mufflers don’t appear to be a requirement around these mountains. My father, Harry, used to sit in his big white rattan chair on the front porch hollering, “Jesus Christ” and a string of obscenities in the direction of any loud vehicle driving past our house. Along with the Norfolk Southern Train horn blaring day or night, engines of old clunkers and diesel trucks made the house and his old bones rattle.

Asa doesn’t hear much of anything these days. Used to howl every time the train whistle blew. Doesn’t even turn his head now. Can’t hear my whistle or voice calling to hurry up. I’ve stopped walking fast. Off lead he’d go flying through waist-tall grass, chasing whatever caught his attention. Used to practically catch a fox, squirrel, or a dozen grazing deer as we hiked in Manassas Battlefields. The white tip of his tail, the only thing I could keep my sight on. Last Sunday, the bright white tail of a doe waved across a field on Mulberry Gap Farm. Asa would have loved a good chase, but he hasn’t much run in him anymore.

A small tuft of white fur rests on the living room carpet, half a foot from Asa’s bed. A soft clump, like a baby’s ringlet, perhaps scratched off in a fitful night’s sleep. Asa’s white hairs merge with the red Oriental rug, the first big purchase made at twenty-four and newly wed. Deep in the fibers, the ones long gone: James and Ginger, Buddha, Mango and Clementine, Rosie, Tuesday, Kitty Kitty, and my first dog, Mr. Wili. Three inches of white fur, soothing between her fingers as she grabs hold. I am the cotton ball shoved in the pocket of old jeans, no need to tell anyone what I’m here for. Don’t resist being little, the comfort of something soft rubbed against the upper lip. White cotton fibers embedded with lint, bits of pencil or cookie. Two fingers gently tease apart a thin wisp of graying white fluff.

“I dedicate all thought to union.”

I don’t remember the first time I left. Maybe it was kindergarten. The time the puddle was there. The rows of miniature desks and small wooden chairs. I lied. Told her it wasn’t mine. The puddle said it was. And the pants with the wet splotch running the distance from crotch down pant leg toward the floor. And some other girl's pants, the ones I wore home. And the bag with the wet ones hidden from Mommy. The pants, shoved down the laundry chute into the basement, falling into darkness and a basket of dirty white sheets. Or maybe stuffed in the back of the dresser drawer, far enough back where no one would find me. The next time they’d be dry. Maybe I left the first time the puddle was there in the morning, on the sheets of the big-girl bed. The white antique iron bed Mommy bought for me. The sheets, covered with the blanket, so no one would know.

Or maybe I first left when the baby arrived. Before I turned two. Middle of January, sent outside to play, in a snowsuit. Next thing my mother heard were my howling screams. Clothes were thrown off. I stood naked, turning red. “Wait till your father gets home,” is all she said.

I can’t wait to leave his room. The scent of urine a one-two punch of memory and repulsion. My father needs a shower and clean gown. He hasn’t left the hospital bed of his own volition for nearly two weeks. Help will be here soon but not soon enough. A plastic urinal with an inch of dark yellow piss hangs from the bed rail. Accidents happen. Someone will clean him and the sheets up after I leave.

7:21 a.m. Tuesday.
As the window shade is opened, an unexpected white coating on the leaves outside the window says good morning. The bitter cold smacks my face as Asa and I walk along the gray gravel flanked by a dusting of fresh white snow. Across the river from the tip of the island, a small white house stands in stark contrast to the hillside of bare trees. This is the confluence, where two avenues of the river merge back to a single flow of the northbound French Broad. They say it’s one of the world’s oldest rivers, preceded only by the Nile River and the New River.

“I dedicate all thought to union.”

Off lead, Asa sniffs every blade of grass, withering weed, and fallen leaf to mark the perfect spot with his pee. Let the world know, I am here. I stand at the far edge of the island, slowing my breath. Here on the rush of the white-capped river crossing to the distant shore. Here inside the small white house. Here looking out the window. Here I greet myself, good morning.

1 Perron, Marie, A Course Of Love: Combined Volumes (Nevada City, Take Heart Publication 2014), C:5.20
2 Dictionary.com, s.v. “Union,” accessed November 26, 2018, http://www.dictionary.com

Lauren Rutten is an artist, writer, and swashbuckling world traveler based in Marshall, North Carolina. When she's not on the road to who-knows-where, you’ll find her hosting writing and soul collage groups at her studio, Milkhouse Arts, or at Flow Gallery, where she is managing partner.

About Union—I wrote this essay in response to class assignments on collage and braided narrative structures. During the course, my father’s health began to deteriorate and he has chosen to enter hospice care.