The ‘Rents Room

Down the short, dark paneled hallway from my room was my parents’ room. Brown carpet, light brown wallpapered walls with an early 80’s textured pattern, and the queen size bed with its dark brown, three paneled headboard.

In the center of each panel of the headboard was an oval. Scrollwork surrounded it. At night when I couldn’t sleep I would trace my fingers along the edge of the oval and around the scrollwork. Quietly, so I wouldn’t wake my mother.

I slept with my parents every chance I got.

Until I was 12.

When I was younger I’d have to go to bed in my own room, but could come crawl in beside my mom if I woke up in the night. If she were not in the mood to be bothered by a kicking child, I’d go around to the other side and slip under my dad’s arm and sleep there. Nothing ever woke him up. He slept like the dead from 9 pm sharp until 3:30 when he got up to go to work every day.

From about the age of 7 on, I slept in my own bed but my dad would come pick me up out of bed before he went to work and carry me in to his warmed up spot and tuck me in to sleep the rest of the night there.

As uncomfortable as I am sharing this information, these are happy, warm memories for me.

Sometimes, in my obsessive need to be close to my parents and please them I would be torn by being unsure which of those two was more important: to please? or to be close? I knew my mother wanted to be close to me, to be connected to me by unbreakable cords of camaraderie, kinship, love, “sisterhood” even. I also knew that she was a light sleeper and didn’t enjoy being awaken in the night.

So I would at times take my blanket and lay down in the hallway outside their door, sleeping there until I grew cold and eventually tiptoed back to my own bed.

Beside my father’s side of the bed was a nightstand. His lamp was on top, and inside the two small drawers were two things: his pajamas, and a book of edible plants. That book was, and maybe still is, one of his prized possessions. He prided himself on the ability to name and identify the varied plants we’d come across on our hikes as a family. We often came home with harvests of camas, sweet-and-sour-grass, cattail roots, and the like. I enjoyed that adventurous “wilderness family” mentality.

On my mother’s long, low dresser was a jewelry box, always full of old treasures. Watches that had long since stopped working, half a dozen of them, at least! Little trinkets and cheap rings, never anything of value, yet to me, of course, they were wonderful.

Their bedroom was the “catch-all” of the little house. It was where the laundry went while waiting to be folded, where the “junk” went when company came over, where the piles of bills and mail went since there was no desk or office.

Their closet had sliding mirrored doors. Three of them in a row. The corner was stuffed with boxes of old bills and paperwork, the top had rows of photo albums, and on the rack the hangars were so close you could hardly push them aside hard enough to hang one more thing up in there.

As I write this I can almost smell that particular smell of my mother. Familiar, soft like baby powder, strong like body odor. She’d cry if she heard me describe it like that, but unfortunately, it is a piece of her she can’t escape. She’s hated her effusive sweat glands her whole life, particularly those in her hands that constantly make them damp, and those under her arms, which embarrass her on a very regular basis.

Under the bed on my father’s side was the hard case that contained his .44 Magnum. We were never allowed to touch it and the ammunition was kept in a secret location that I believe varied from one place to the next. Once my mom shot it out behind my grandparents’ house. It knocked her down. She hated it from then on.

My parents’ bed was always made, pillows always neatly tucked under the folded top of the bedspread, with throw pillows neatly arranged on top.

My Room

When I was 4 years old we moved into a single wide trailer in a trailer park. Space number 10. We passed 9 single wide trailers on the left, a really old one and the manager’s big white two-story house on the right before we reached ours.

Ours was two-toned brown aluminum siding and was filled inside with dark brown cabinets, brown carpet, and hideous, scratchy, plaid curtains. And a great big sun-god bronze medallion thing that came with the house and took up half the kitchen wall.

Inside the door you’d find the living room to the right, with it’s fancy bay windows, then my brothers’ room at the end. To the left was the tiny kitchen, the bathroom with a garden tub, my room, then my parents’ room at the other end (and also with fancy bay windows).

There was no basement or attic, just a crawlspace between the axles behind the painted brown boards all around the bottom and neatly covered with lattice. There was no laundry room, just a washer and dryer tucked away under some shelves in the hallway between the kitchen and bathroom. There was no office, no desk, no piano, no computer. But before winter, my father had removed the bar counter at the pass-through from the kitchen and had installed a woodstove with a glass window in that corner.

And it was home.

It was a warm, cozy, full of love kind of home, and despite the lack of space, my mom raised 3 kids there. I lived in that house from the age of 4 until I was 17, though we did utilize the axles once and moved it from the trailer park to a piece of property where neighbors were scarce. I was 11 when we did that, and my kitty didn’t appreciate the confusion. We went back several times, but she was never found. Her name was Jenny and she was a pretty white cat who only loved me.

My room was tiny. Once a twin bed was put in there against the far wall below the window, there was about 5 square feet of floor space left. Next to the bed was a low dresser and on top was my lamp. It was a pretty pink lamp, and I can remember so clearly the sound it made when I switched it on and off. Probably because I spent every night reading until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and that sound was always the last thing I heard.

At the foot of my bed I kept the doll highchair for my Cabbage Patch babies, Jenny and Joshie (I know, very inventive, right?!) and where all my “junk” was tossed when my room was “cleaned”. My closet had enough space to hang a few dresses and a shelf above that I never could reach.

And that was it. I read so much that at first I kept questioning whether I had a book shelf in my room, but I don’t think I did. I think they must have sat on my dresser, because I can’t remember them being anywhere else, though having a book to read was a constant given. I think the majority were library books, only kept for a couple of weeks, if that.

My bed was a canopy bed. Dark wood, with tall posters and knobs that fit down through the holes in the curved pieces that went from the foot to the head. If you didn’t want it to be a canopy bed anymore, the curved pieces could be removed and the knobs would fit down in the posts and look nice anyway. The canopy cover didn’t come with the bed, and we couldn’t afford to buy the one in the catalog, so my mom made one. It was a rose pattern, with a ruffle all around the edge, and I would lay awake and see the faces of rose fairies in the pattern. I also had a little round throw pillow with roses on it, but the pattern wasn’t the same. I still have that pillow somewhere, floating around in one of the girls’ rooms.

My carpet was brown, like all the carpet in that house.

I remember my mom would daily make all the beds in the house, in the morning, after we’d gone to school. And though she’d tell me to clean my room, she’d eventually break down and clean it for me one day while I was at school. I never had to clean it myself, really, and making my own bed was neither required nor taught to me until I was probably 12? Then I learned, but it still wasn’t required.

Well, that’s my room, plus a bunch of extra stuff! More tomorrow!

Faded

When I first met C & R, I was amazed at the clarity of their childhood memories. C’s have always been stark, journalistic portraits such as you’d see in a history book. No surprise there. R’s are more like a beautiful book – an Anne of Green Gables book, or a Jane Austen book: full of pose and poetry. The sharpness of a conversation recorded perfectly in quotation marks, the softness of catching the wafts of honeysuckle on the breeze and the corresponding sonnet with it.

Mine are not like that. I have no clarity, no quotation marks. Mine is more like an impressionist painting, one that has enough light and color to believe it to be pretty, and enough darkness to wonder what impression exactly it is that you’re supposed to come away with.

I remember embarrassing moments, because I was easily embarrassed and because those were the moments when the most violent emotions were felt. Everything else at times seemed an exercise in controlling how I felt in order to act the way I was supposed to. Embarrassment came quickly, and overruled my thoughts for a brief second. Those memories stand out in my mind and surface far easier than the rest.

I don’t remember enough about my childhood. I don’t remember normal life, day in, day out types of things. I have to look for those memories.

Sadly, I also have to look for memories of certain times in my adult life, too. I remember very little of ELA’s babyhood. I can picture her crib with all the little baby girl clothes piled into it, waiting for her birth, and I can remember how her room looked after her sister was born and she moved into a toddler bed. But I can’t picture ELA in her crib, or how the room looked, or sitting with her in the night to nurse. Or watching her sleep.

Those are the things that trouble me. I want more than just impressionist paintings in my mind, not only of my children’s little years, but also of my own. At one point in my life, the family I was born into received all the love, loyalty, and devotion that my own family does now. And that’s not a small thing!

So, what will come next is a series of posts that will be merely descriptions of very boring things: my room, my house, our pets, the family car, my school. Then I will post descriptions of the people, inasmuch as I can separate my memories of them then from my memories of them now. Maybe somewhere in there will be something I think I’ve forgotten but have only temporarily lost in the fog of life-living and motherhood. Maybe it will restore a little faith in myself. One can hope, right?

May the boringness not overwhelm you.

Regrets

Maybe because my mom drove me nuts with all of her regrets growing up, or maybe partly because I did my best to live my life in such a way as to prevent the massive overload of regrets I might have, or maybe it’s a combination of both.

Either way, I’ve carried around very few regrets into my thirties. In fact, when asked, I’ve had a hard time coming up with even a handful of nameable regrets. Regrets are nothing more than justifications for negative beliefs you hold onto about yourself. They are worthless, I thought. They gain no better ground because they are street tires in a mud hole. Spinning and spinning. Flinging here and there and people close to you getting muddy. Slowly digging deeper into negativity.

At least, that’s how I’ve seen it for the first 30 years of my life, how I viewed my mom’s regrets, which were without exception categorically smaller than what registers on most people’s regret-o-meters.

Things change, though. People change. Perspective changes.

I wasn’t really regret-free, though, and in my self-righteous judgement of regretters, I thought if I kept telling myself I had no regrets that I really wouldn’t. Because I had worked too damn hard to be regret-free in my younger years to EVER concede to having any. All those years of living in a cocoon of safety. Bubble-wrapped. Fed from a spoon all the clichès that kept me in a judgmental tizzy for the first 20 years of my life.

I think I might see the fading light of a picture in my head now and then that startles me by the intense clarity that was shaded from my view in years past. In the years to come, I think, there will be more and more of those pictures and sometimes it just simply makes me afraid. Now I know that the path I chose, in order to prevent regrets, was safe only in my naive eyes. In reality, I am not in control of enough circumstances to ever really have been safe from regrets. I will still choose to try to let them go, as many, as quickly, as damage-free as I possibly can.

So I will start here:

Things I do NOT regret:

*Getting on a plane, on the last day of the year 2000, with a one-way ticket in my hand, $40 in my pocket, and a single suitcase full of clothes to my name.

*Driving across the country with the best friend a girl could ever have, barely stopping to eat, full-on crying jags, swimming in the Platte, driving through Idaho at 3 am listening to SheDaisy, saying goodbye at the right time in order to say hello at the right time.

*Going to college.

*Skinny dipping in the Columbia on Oct. 31, in the golf course lakes in November, the secret spot off of the American River, in Lake Michigan in October, Torch in July at midnight. When 8 months pregnant.

*Getting my belly button pierced at 21.

*Getting buzzed for the very first time in my own home, with no one around but my best friend, no where to go, and no trouble to get into.

*Tequila shots the weekend after I lost a baby.

*My children. Any of them.

*Staying home with my children.

*Loving completely, without reservation, cynicism, or a length of time anywhere in my heart

*NOT smoking.

*Blushing when kids in school talked about sex. As much as I hated it then, I’m grateful for my lingering innocence, for being a late bloomer, for not knowing for much longer than most.

*Falling to my knees in the woods, fingers down my throat, tears from my eyes, first time of many, many times. Yes. This IS in the non-regret pile for me. Maybe there will be a time it shifts over to the other side, but I’m not there yet.

*Singing. Loud. Freely. At the county fair. In the back of a truck way out in the woods for my dashboard drummer. For a hobbit, standing on a path, acapella, “He said he grew up near Wichita, in a Mayberry kinda town..” watching his face as I sang.

*Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee in a little diner on a rainy Sunday wearing wranglers and boots and teeth chatteringly soaked to the bone kinda cold.

*Colporteuring. Talking to hundreds of random strangers in a span of 8 weeks does make one get over the shyness a bit. All the sunshine, exercise, competition, breaking the rules, pushing harder. It wasn’t the skinniest I’d ever been, but it was the best my body ever felt.

*Brasil. Spiders, sweat, piranhas, the whole bit.

*A snowy evening shopping trip in Tahoe with a boy who was not meant to be my husband. The falling flakes on our faces, the tiny, shy, little small talk that made me know, and be at peace with, the knowledge that despite the long, long history, it was not meant to be anything more than…this. It was the gentlest way possible that God could have told me to let go and move on.

*Waiting. Has it been perfect on this road? No. But I have no regrets here. Still.

*Not going with Ruben to a party in Sac. Seriously. Could have changed so much for us. He was fun, could have gotten us into the party, but could he have kept us from being rufied? I doubt it. And we had NO idea what that even meant, let alone watch out for it. At. All.

*Breastfeeding. Every day, every moment, every snuggly baby making happy sounds, every struggle to latch, every bout of mastitis (cough), every self-conscious moment in public, every milk-drunk look, every eye-to-eye contact with another mom in a fleeting moment of knowing. Every chub. Every wrinkle. Every whiff of sour neck and scent of baby hair. Every middle of the night just me and you memory.

*Homebirthing. Must. Become. Midwife.
Regrets are so hard for me. I think that by admitting them I am saying that I am ungrateful for what I have, because somehow, in some tiny way, each one of these decisions if made differently could completely alter my life’s outcome. Or at least, that’s how it feels when I think about it.

Things I DO regret:

*Not inviting Carl to Dad’s house that last day we saw him. I’ll never ever forget his face.

*Turning down an offer for a wine spritzer while singing in the back of a truck way out in the woods. It was a corner that we turned that day. I didn’t know it. He never looked back.

*Tubes tied. Induction. Hospital birth. Pretty much everything surrounding EC’s birth.

*Not getting a degree. Career was never my focus, but to have finished something worthy would have given me a sense of accomplishment that I truly did (do) deserve.

*Fear. Gripping, pervasive, consuming the first 20 years of my life, fear of disappointing my mother.

*Fear. Carried over and allowed into the rest of my life – fear of disappointing/receiving the condemnation of my mother in law.

*Not finding my sense of humor for FAR too long.

*Not playing pirates with my boy before yesterday. Not playing trucks with him every chance I had, not figuring out how to find the switch on my own imagination and PLAY with him.

*ELA. I *can’t* dwell or put words to this yet. Someday it will rip my heart up into little shreds, the volume of regrets. Mistakes. Hurts. Someday I will blame every ounce of it on myself, regardless of how independent she’s been since about day 1.

*ELA. I regret every day I tried to “pull myself up from my bootstraps” instead of getting help when after her birth all I could think about was how to off myself in the least messy way possible because “they would all be better off without me.” That was stupid. I needed help. I should have said so long before I did.
I WILL come back and finish this and write more. But for now must go enjoy this last fall day… TBC…

Lights and Sirens and Standing Still

hazen
 

We were there that night.

You. And me.

Our babies.

The sirens kept us from pulling out of the tiny little parking lot onto the road and shushed the laughter.

The lake had been a relief. A cold, long dredge from the deepest well of cool, healing water on a day you never want to do again.

But the sirens brought us back.

They kept coming. More lights. More sirens.

The dread grew in our hearts until it was as palpable as the sweat dripping down our backs. The coolness of the water we’d just played in was replaced by the steamy, sticky, humid air all around.

We prayed, silently, alone in our own hearts. But we knew.

We knew.

Friday came too soon, despite the dragging hot days in between.

I stood in the barn and saw the row of policemen closing the circle and wanted to stay in the shade of the barn and pretend not to see the tears of the men in uniform.

They had circled the wagons. I’d never seen that before. So many engines and rescue trucks and police cars. Enough to envelope more than 600 people in the comfort of their strength.

We stood, in the sun, because there was nowhere left to sit, and around us the people continued to gather over the next hour.

“Greater love hath no man…”, the minister said, and the words hit home in every heart listening.

The bell rang. And rang again. And again.

Three times because that’s what you do when there is a man down. A man who has heard the final alarm and answered the call.

They folded the flag and while I tried to look away, there were tears on the faces of all the young men and the pain was everywhere, unavoidable, and my tears fell with theirs. Not just because of Loren, but because I know what that first taste of death feels like, what that loss of a childhood friend does as it drags the innocence from your soul.

They radioed in a roll call from all the stations, calling goodbye to a brother down the open lines. And left it open while the static said more than any words could.

We moved around after the final prayer in uncomfortable comeraderie with everyone else there. In a while there formed three distinct groups: the boys out behind the barn, throwing back beer after beer in his truck, sweat pouring from their bodies, tears from their eyes; the ems and firefighter crews hiding behind the wall of trucks, seeking privacy to mourn their brother in uniform, a brother who will never be forgotten, immortalized in the halls of their particular fraternities; and the rest of us in the middle. Attempting to comfort each other; the family; the community.

I stood in the group at the front, taking some pictures, reading the cards on the flowers, looking at the old photos of a little boy riding a horse.

And then there was no one else left in line and I stood in front of her, wondering how to do this, how to… how…

I stepped forward.

I hugged her and whispered the lamest words on the planet and stepped away, looking into her medicated eyes, wondering whether she recognized anyone at all. There ARE no words to say, not even from a mother to a mother unless you have walked that path through hell and back.

She has walked it twice now.

She is Job.

It was hard to turn and leave. As we walked away there was this knowledge that when the hugs are finished, when the words of condolence have evaporated with the heat, when all the people are gone, she will wake up to pain.

Pain and mercifully dim memories of this god-awful day.

The sirens wailed for us all as his brothers drove away, down the dusty road.

Away.

until it stops

I step outside of the hot kitchen and sit on the first step, my bare feet at once touching the hot, dry concrete and the cool, squishy, newly dropped pollen berries from the walnut tree that are strewn everywhere. But I can’t sit still. My mind is flashing from one point to the next like lightening in the sky. The air is heavy, sticky; oppressive is too nice a word for it.

I walk to the back of the yard and turn toward the house. It’s somehow painful to look at and there is a tightness in my chest that is more than just the heat and humidity keeping my lungs from filling.

I can’t stop moving, I can’t stop the surfacing of the feeling that this isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to me. Any of it. The house, the garden, the beast of a truck staring at me with its great square eyes in the driveway. It’s not mine. None of it’s mine.

I glance at the edge of the back walk and see the pulled weeds in a heap where someone has tossed them for me to later pick up. I haven’t done my job. I’ve been derelict on my duties. I am lazy. I am unworthy. I have not met the expectations of those around me. These words fling themselves at me from somewhere inside and while my face changes not a bit, inside I am scratching at the sides of my face, down my jaw until all the skin is gone and the pain overwhelmes me while the blood runs through my fingers.

I turn again and walk to the garden, up and down each row of tiny plants. I look out over the fields with their tall grass waving in the evening summer breeze. There are no horses. This too isn’t mine. As I turn once again toward the house I catch a glimpse of his tall, lanky form in the haze next to the house. He doesn’t see me and steps back inside. If I close my eyes I can smell his skin and feel how it makes me a little bit drunk. The many nights of lovemaking last week are gone. Vanished. As if it never happened and I don’t know where he is again. Did they count for nothing or do they just not compare to what he finds himself desiring somewhere else in his soul? I have not met his expectations. For how long now? I don’t know. I turn to the new garden and my movements are smooth, unfaltering, but inside I am kneeling behind a bush, raking my fingers down the back of my throat. Again. again. again. again. again. again. again. again. again.     again. until there is nothing left to come out but blood and bile and the tears are running freely down my face and mixing with little bits of stringy, sticky food and snot and I am curled into a ball next to my puke.

The sand tire stands in the middle of all this. Somehow it is a little bit mine. I can see my son’s little blonde head sitting there with his trucks so vividly. The silver maple next to it is somehow a little bit mine, too. It grows where I cannot.

I pass by the swingset and see a pair of sandals of a sparkling, suntanned little girl who needs my love, my acceptance, my unfaltering support. Beside those is a hat from a little boy, smart as a whip, and a bandaid from a curly topped little sweetheart. Inside I hear faintly the fussing of a baby and I know I must go back in soon. All they need is love, really. At best I give them unpredictable fluff and at worst inconsistent discipline. I am failing them. I am wasting their days and robbing them of what should be their childhood. I am neither good nor desirable as a mother. I am unworthy of their respect and undeserving of their love. Looking around at the unfamiliar view from the new garden plot as my feet sink into the soft dirt, I step softly toward the house without making a sound, without tears, without grimacing but inside I take my hands, and I grasp the opposite wrists, and rub and turn the skin back and forth until it is gone and my fingers hurt from gripping so tight and the skin peels off in my hands.

He is lying still in our bed, breathing evenly. We have not touched or spoken of more than offhanded topics today save the goodbye kiss in the haze of dawn as he left. I slip out of my shorts and take up the fussing baby and lay her next to my sweaty body and nurse her calmly and quietly and wait for the darkness to creep in and fill my brain until it stops.

Supposed to Be

Well, this post should be Day 3 of the 100 day challenge, but it’s not.

I got derailed by a third bout of mastitis in 2 months. They say the biggest factor in recurrence is being run-down, not taking care of yourself, having a lowered immunity, and stress. Huh. That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with this in MY life.

Not with a 9 month old clingy baby, a 4 year old clingy girl who has suddenly taken to peeing on the floor of her bedroom and pooping directly under the swingset in the yard, a 5 year old who…. well, we know what she does, and a 7 year old lawyer who is constantly negotiating for a better deal. Plus the heat that makes me want to scream, renders me useless for entire days, a pile of laundry, dishes, washing, scrubbing, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, and cleaning it all again. And the husband…. who comes home after a day like this, sits his ass down, picks up nothing, asks me nothing about how I’m coping with the mastitis and all this, waits two hours, and then comes and asks me to finally fix him dinner. My god, seriously?!?! You can’t fix your own damn haystack?!

What did I do?

To deserve this special kind of punishment today?!

Started off the day with a dream. Weird dream. I gave birth to a baby boy, except I was knocked out completely and they took him out of me. Apparently all my idealistic thoughts on birthing go completely down the drain with a 5th child. Not many people I know of go from home birth to in the hospital to epidural to… c-section. In my psuedo-reality self defense, though – he was a whopping 10 lbs. 2 oz.

In my dream I looked at my swaddled little bundle, with everyone around me, crowding in as I finally met him, and thought, is that MY child?! I had to feel my stomach to make sure it wasn’t still bulging out in order to accept that this wrapped up baby with nothing showing but his face was really mine, despite the fact that he was held by my husband and the rest of the family beamed at us as if it were absolutely obvious that he were mine.

He looked just like EM. Same chin. Same tippy ears.

I reached out and took him, feeling his weight in my arms and wanted to unpeel the layers and lay his chubby little baby body next to my skin. My body felt foreign, like it had betrayed me, but HE felt like he belonged.

And then I woke up.

In the real world:

The hubby wanted a shearing, I mean a haircut, the son dropped syrupy pancake on his church pants, the girls stayed home with me and bickered constantly in the bath until I scrubbed one up and got her out just so she could shut the door on the baby who was trying to crawl up onto the stairs. After  a whole lot of crying and soothing and nursing I figured out half the problem with that sort of comfort was that baby has a sore on the bottom side of her tongue from the new tooth rubbing it raw. After the second girl got out of the tub the girls fought over who got to play peekaboo with the baby until someone tripped and fell on her. More soothing, more nursing, more tears. I tried to put some rolls in the bread makers and in the 5 minutes it takes to do that, someone picked up the baby and put her crookedly into the walker, pinning a foot the wrong way, someone knocked the coffee maker onto the floor, which was thankfully void of hot coffee but not void of a cup or so of wet coffee grounds. How do you clean up that shit, anyway?! The more we tried to clean it up the further the mess spread!

And so, that is how my morning has gone. I’m pretty darn sure I won’t be making it to church today, and we’ll be lucky to have anything at all to eat for lunch.

Old Truck? or Old Spice?

My day was busy. Sweeping and dishes. Cooking, cleaning. Schoolwork, abc’s, and reading stories. I hung diapers on the line, poured vinegar in the laundry, called the dentist, registered for campmeeting, wrote notes to friends to try and keep up with life outside these walls, and mailed out Mother’s Day cards.

Evening came. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go to the church meeting, go to the gym, or go for a walk, but in the end the need for going to the grocery store pleaded its case and I gave in. I felt guilty as I passed the church, and my stomach growled as I went past the gym. One must not eat dinner if one intends to go the gym at 7 pm.

*sigh*

I parked the old beast next to the cart corral. I always park next to the cart corral. I don’t care if there’s a spot closer to the door; when I have 4 kids and a cart full of groceries I’m not going to care if I’m 10 feet closer to the door, but I AM going to care if I unload all the hoodlums and then have to hoof it across the parking lot to find a corral, darn it!

I was all business as I went down my list of necessities. There is a birthday coming up. I found all the ingredients I needed for cake baking, for frosting, and for party time munchies. I tried to think of the meal plan for next week and what I might be missing. I checked out, paid with my bank card, stopped for a quick drink at the water fountain, and headed for my car.

The night air was sweet, one of the still rare evenings with spring floating on the breezes. I hardly noticed as I unloaded my bags into the back of the beast. The twilight might have been charming, had I stopped to look at it. But I didn’t. I hopped into the driver’s seat and cranked the ignition. It didn’t start. I cranked it again. It still didn’t start. The third time finally brought her to life and suddenly the air around me was filled with the unmistakeable smell of a carburated intake.

Now, one must understand: I’ve had this old girl since Christmas, and have consistently driven her. But in this northern tundra one eventually becomes numb to the fact that it gets so cold in the winter time that YOU CAN’T SMELL things. All the little particles in the air freeze and even if they did reach your nose you couldn’t smell them properly because your NOSE is frozen just as solidly!

I couldn’t help it. I drank in the smell of Old Truck and squeezed my eyes shut to relive the moments frozen in time that were attached to that smell and which were trying desperately to surface. I rolled down the window as I drove out of the parking lot and the sweet spring air seeped in, swirling around my hair, brushing across my face. My breath caught in my throat and I was 16 again.

I was riding shotgun in Jake’s old brown Ford, heading up the hill behind town to school. No! I was in my Dad’s white and brown work truck, heading into the woods to cut trees for fall woodstacking. WAIT! I was going up Old Man’s Pass in an old Willy’s jeep to go hookeybobbin with the crew. HOLD UP! I was in a little blue Toyota with a funky gear shifter and a skinny boy wearing Wranglers a bit too (tight) driving the backroads going nowhere in particular. No. I was a girl in the middle of an old black Ford bench seat with a boy I couldn’t walk away from driving slowly down a gravel hill to a dead end at the river. And Black Velvet playing on the radio.

I stopped at 7B and pulled the shifter into park. I shoved in the only surviving cassette tape and turned it up. Blackhawk. Not much else could have pulled me back in time more profoundly than that smell and those songs. I laid down across the front seat of my old beast and stared up at the blue roof. I tried to remember what it felt like to have everything in front of me still, with no cynicism, just innocence.

I can remember those times, the hopefulness even in the very midst of my 17 year old despair, for I had no real doubt that it would all turn out right in the end, that I would be HERE, exactly where I am. So why are even these memories tainted with traces of the cynicism I carry with me these days? Why is it so hard to remember the GIRL I once was?

I wanted to come home, jump on the computer, and write my little heart out, continue on that book that I started so many years ago, but the story keeps changing and I feel disconnected. As if those people and places can’t look at me now and comprehend who I am any more than I can look back on that girl and comprehend what went on inside her.

Somehow there is only ONE connection between the two worlds and I hold on desperately to her, to her friendship, to her continuous grasp of who I am. Not ONLY now, not JUST back then. All of me. I know I won’t ever know exactly how that works, how it’s possible, but I BELIEVE she always has, and always will be a part of the very definition of ME.

A Moment in Passing

There I was, new at my job, rushing to figure out what went where and who to ask when I didn’t know the next step.  It was a peacable place, bustling with energy at times and slow moving at others, yet filled with comeraderie and joviality. It wasn’t a bad place to spend my day.

And one day, still in my training period, when the rush of spring semester book orders came in and seniors filled the aisles with laughter and frustration as they tried to figure out what they needed to order and how many centimeters tall they were, I bumped into him.

Literally. I rounded a corner and nearly knocked him flat. I was equally as embarassed by bumping into him as I would be any other person of the opposite sex. Which is to say, I was red as a beet.

Even that level of embarassment, though, did not prevent me from noticing his reaction. He stood up straight, and finding himself in much too close a proximity to me, stepped back.

Twice.

And then…danced around, for lack of a better term. When speaking with someone you know, generally you stand with about an arms length between you. He had gone from one extreme – being so close we ought to hug, to being an awkward two steps away – just far enough that in the bustle around us no one was sure whether we were in an actual conversation or not, and just far enough that speaking in a normal tone was difficult.

What the??? I thought as I watched him nervously shift his weight back and forth, taking a random step here and there. Isn’t this the guy I’ve known my whole life? Then why am I blushing and why is he… doing whatever it is he’s doing?

It was April. I had seen him just a week or two before. It hadn’t been so awkward then.

I wanted to say congratulations to him for his big news, but I didn’t want him to know that I’d heard it from my mom, who heard it from his mom within the first 24 hours of it happening, I think. So I waited.

Finally he stammered over the words after a few more awkward minutes when I asked how she was doing, and I finally wished him congratulations. He muttered some things about timing and families and something in the fall. I don’t really remember what he said exactly because I was so struck by how apologetic and regretful he sounded. I couldn’t figure out why – I was so hoping to have similar news of my own soon and couldn’t wait to be able to shout it from the mountaintops. I’m sure it was just a guy thing.

We parted ways on an equally awkward note, and I didn’t see him again for several months. Right around the beginning of fall, to be exact.

I helped his bride get into her dress, helped sew the last few stitches on her gown as the family and friends of his childhood (and mine) laughed and chatted and stood in familiar groups ouside in the sunshine. I watched him cry as he said his vows, and I watched her lay into him when he returned from the kidnapping of the groomsmen. I held my breath when they were supposed to be flying back from their honeymoon on 9/11.

My life moved on, my love found its permanent home in the heart of this man here next to me. I have no regrets. My life is happy and in retrospect I can see how poorly matched he and I would have been, despite the desires and wishes and support of our two families, who seemed to have fervently hoped we’d make a match.

His life? I don’t know. In pictures it seems happy. Fully of bustling activity, career, hobbies, and outdoor adventures that I dream of still doing in my happy dreams. But no babies. No children to fill their home and their hearts.

Not many words, if any? have been spoken directly between the two of us in the last ten years. Except, perhaps, this one completely vague sentiment:

“South Lake Tahoe was awesome! Nothing like driving 2 hrs to church through some of the most beautiful scenery in America! Wonderful!”

Yeah, not much, I’m sure I’m reading into that a whole lot more than what was meant by it, but tell me, who spent those two hours with him every week? They were peacable hours, listening to fernando ortega, watching the scenery going by, and in general NOT being awkward or contrived. We didn’t talk all that much, or have deep spiritual conversations, but perhaps he looks back and appreciates the memory of being able to have some sort of comfortable silence without contention. I just wonder, a little bit.

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