Saturday, July 1, 2017
I used to know all the elements on the periodic chart that hung from the top blackboard rail in Mrs. Carlisle’s chemistry classroom.The chart has grown since then, the rows filled in with new fancy-named elements, one colored box after another with the atomic number included. Or was that the valence? Or is the atomic number the same thing as the valence? I used to know.
I used to know the names of everyone in my 2nd grade class, but last week I found a class photo of us all, a black and white photo. There was one boy in a plaid shirt who had a front tooth missing and one girl in a dress with puff sleeves and her hair in fat braids, that I couldn’t identify. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I’m hoping their names will come to me, maybe when I wake in the middle of the night sometime.
My 2nd Grade teacher was Miss Lipscomb. The longer than usual skirts she wore were dark, but not black, and her shoes were clunky. She was not afraid to go into the boys' bathroom if she heard laughing or if Joe Hoyt Akers was fooling around and flushing whatever flushes in the boys' bathroom every ten seconds. Miss Lipscomb told us it was impossible anyone would ever go to the moon. The moon was scalding hot where it caught the rays of the sun and freezing cold on the shadow side and no person could last more than three and a half minutes on either side. I used to know that, but not anymore.
I used to know absolutely that if I sat quietly for long enough and didn’t wiggle my toes or breathe too loud, a rabbit would hop up onto my lap, or maybe a grasshopper would jump onto my knee. I was certain we would have a conversation about some common interest, maybe grass or rain or coyotes. I also knew all animals spoke English.
I used to know how to jump rope and the rhymes we chanted when we jumped, how to tie a fancy bow for a birthday gift, and how to dance the Merengue. I’d still like another go with the Merengue.
I used to know how to ride a bicycle. They say you never forget. That is probably true, but now even when I am attempting to peddle down a flat road, I am afraid I will fall. I used to know how not to be afraid of falling.
I used to know Latin conjugations and declensions — hic, haec, hoc, and huius, huius. huius, and so on. But even on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I’d rather clean a closet than go through all that again. I have chosen not to know them ever again.
I used to know how to take notice of the little things like cheerful bees collecting pollen from the sunset orange lily, the gentle sound of the purring tabby cat nestled on the chair across the room, and the golden flicker that springs up in the candlewick I light for my cousin who died this week. Wait a minute! I still know all that, and I want to know that, and I will know it as much as I can.
Friday, June 30, 2017
Open or closed? Closed or open?
When I’m driving, I like the doors to be closed but the windows open, my right hand on the wheel, my left arm resting on the window’s sill, half in, half out, in case I want to imitate a dolphin, rising up and diving down in imaginary waves, an imaginary sea, just currents of air really. I switch things up and take the wheel to get something from my purse — lodged between the driver’s and the passenger’s seats — open, unzipped, but closed off enough I have to feel for what I want. Driving along at sixty-miles per hour, my mind is open, playing ping pong with possibilities — though it craves the safety of closed, closed off, when I have too much to do, too many things to mix and match. I can actually sense information flying out of a hole in my head drilled wide, made deep, by anxiety and a lack of time. An opening I must close as soon as possible lest I become a flibbertigibbet — with a driver’s license.
Closed or open? Open or closed?
Flowers start off closed up tight tight tight until the sun’s light, the ever warming air, spring’s nourishing rains coax clenched blooms — held tight by what, I wonder — into a state of open vulnerability. Beautiful but short-lived. Because that kind of tenderness, nature’s tenderness, can’t last. Hour by hour, day by day, that state of perfect openness overreaches itself, stretching past any point of sustainability. Some flowers hang on, as their blooms dry out, and remind us daily of their former glory. While others collapse into piles and heaps, clinging to any surface that will have them, if only for a little while, before they decompose and disappear from view.
Open, closed. Closed, open.
There’s no guarantee. No perfect state of bliss. Just the journey from one state to another and sometimes back again.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
I think I used to know a lot more than I do now. As I get older, details seem to dissolve away.
I used to know the names of every student who rode my school bus and could anticipate every stop along the route. I can't tell you any names now but curiously I quite often have dreams of riding this bus as it makes its way along its circuitous route. In the dream I am the only rider.
I used to know all the rules for playing cribbage and I know I loved playing it with my mother every evening, after doing my homework, though she was always able to add up our scores quick as a wink, while I was still trying to figure them out.
I used to know where I did my laundry when I was in college. I'm sure it was somewhere in my dorm. But in the basement, or down the hall? How could I forget something I must have done every week.
I used to know how to play the piano. As far as I'm concerned, playing the piano is not at all like riding a bike. You do forget how to do it. Sitting at the keyboard nothing comes back to me; my fingers have happily given up any memory that they'd ever been familiar with the keys in the past. However, dancing is something else. My body still remembers the repeated and practiced movements of ballet, and though it may no longer move in those controlled yet limber ways, it wants to.
I used to know Kathy's phone number, my friend who I called every night, so we could compare our algebra homework answers.
I used to know how to type really fast, on a non-electric typewriter.
I used to know how to use hair curlers to give my very straight hair just the sort of curls I wished I'd been born with.
I used to know the skills to fit a lot more activities into my day.
I used to know how to conjugate verbs in French, Russian, and Latin.
I used to know the titles of every Little Golden Book I owned at age 5.
I used to know how to get my father's sailboat ready for a cruise — specifically how to turn on the batteries and start up the diesel engine so it would be ready for any emergencies that might come up when leaving a harbor and maneuvering through moorings. Those details have disappeared from my mind, as they are no longer needed. But I used to know and still do know, how to use the sails as the wind requires (jib, genoa, main, mizzen and spinnaker). I doubt those details will ever vanish.
I used to know the words for a lot of Girl Scout camp songs and only realized I no longer did when my sister suggested a sing-along at the upcoming memorial gathering for my mother, who had been a Girl Scout her entire life.
I used to know all the varieties of swim strokes that were required to pass the Red Cross advanced swim test and lifesaving course. But I secretly hated swimming lessons and so promptly forgot almost everything, except the side stroke which I loved, as it seemed like a lazy person's way of swimming, and the frog kick, whose quirkiness appealed to my sense of humor.
I used to know the names of my sister's boyfriends and the addresses of where she lived with these various partners.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
“Do you like them?” the nice man asked me as he finished tying the second shoe. “The fit is perfect,” he said, poking the front of my sneaker trying to find my toe. “Why don’t you walk around in them? Give ‘em a whirl!”
“They’re perfect. Beautiful. Just right.” I marveled, unable to take my eyes off of them. “I love them already.” Looking down at my feet, I was almost speechless — my very first pair of Red Ball Jets.
The salesman continued to encourage me. “Go on. Walk around the store and try them out. You can even run — it’s okay to run around in here.”
I stood slowly and began taking very deliberate, cautious steps. It was hard to walk and look at my feet at the same time, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. The toe was perfectly white and the sneaker was bright bright red. On the back of the sneaker was the special blue dot with the words Red. Ball. Jets. I could hear the slogan in my head: “Run faster. Jump Higher. In your Red Ball Jets!”
I stared at them wondering — “Will I have a hard time controlling them? Will it be scary to run so fast and jump so high? I’ll have to really practice.”
I thought to myself —“Maybe start with jumping over small things, like the dog and my bike. And then work up gradually to bigger things — the hedge along the driveway, my sister, and then Mrs. McCarthy’s house.”
I moved around the store slowly, carefully. I wasn’t at all convinced that this nice man understood the power he had just tied onto my feet. After one lap around the store, and feeling slightly more confident, I began to move a little bit faster. Slowly I worked up to a jog. “Still good.” I thought. “I can control these.”
“Do they feel okay honey?” my mother asked as I jogged past her. "They don’t hurt your feet do they?”
I came out of my concentration just long enough to tell her that they felt great and then I returned to my initiation.
“Ready for Phase 2,” I said out loud to no one, and with that I broke into a run. My feet felt light. My legs felt powerful. I was moving faster than I ever could have imagined.
In mere seconds I was flying out of the children’s section and whipping through women’s shoes. My speed was incredible. “I’m just getting warmed up!” I thought to myself as I took the first tight turn to the right. Out of women’s and into men’s shoes, then boots, socks, and . . . well, I don’t remember the rest of the store. I was moving so fast it was all just a blur.
Two more right turns and I stopped abruptly next to my mother. “That’s a lot of running for a 4-year-old!” she said to me as I leaned on my knees, huffing and puffing. “Should we get them?” She paused, letting me catch my breath. “It seems like you can handle them,” she commented without a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
“I can handle them,” I replied quickly between breaths. I didn’t want her to realize that I hadn’t even tried jumping yet!
"What would happen when I left the ground in these babies?!!" I wondered to myself.
Mom nodded when I asked if I could wear them home, and we went up to the cash register to pay for them.
“Are you sure you’re okay with them?” Mom asked as we walked hand in hand to the car. “I’m sure,” I said. “But just to be safe, I better sit in the back seat.”
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Not for a millisecond do I deceive myself
that you are listening, yet I speak to you
as if you were just out of the shower, shaving,
or stirring milk into your morning coffee
while you frown over foreign affairs
as reported by Frank Rich.
Hello up there. I say it
In the morning, in the midst of day,
But especially at night,
Patting the empty place where
I used to brush my fingers on your belly
To be certain that it was moving up and down, up and down.
I tell you all the latest:
my aches and pains, who’s getting a divorce, who’s dying,
but most of all, the children,
whose lives link ours with the future.
Hello up there, I say again.
Someday I will join you in oblivion,
and we will share the ease of nothingness
as once we shared a bite of succulent lobster
or the zany laughter of early Woody Allen,
or handed back and forth our favorite sections of the Sunday Times.
NOTE: The title comes from a poem by Marge Piercy
Saturday, May 27, 2017
We are night time travelers you and I
Star struck from an early age
Hoping the Ferris Wheel would get stuck at the top
So we could sway above the kaleidoscopic carnival below
Above the games that couldn’t be won
But were played anyway
Reaching to touch the moon with cotton candied fingers
A pinky promise to stay stuck together forever
And we did
Few words between us
None needed in the awe of how we fit
So perfectly in the milky way
Don’t let go we giggled
Our laughter mingling with the twinkling stars
Let’s stay here forever we sighed in time
And we do
Thursday, May 18, 2017
I remember the dogwood tree in the corner of the side yard. I remember the color of the flowers - white, maybe pink. I remember how this tree was my favorite, my special space, my changing room. I remember I didn't understand that anyone driving down the street could see me. I remember hanging my clothes on the branches and believing I had utter privacy. I remember when Mom told me I couldn't do that anymore.
I remember the rocks at Taughannock Falls State Park, the wet, sometimes slimy ones that we weren't supposed to walk across. I remember going there purposely to walk on them, all five of us. I remember how we weren't the only ones - there were young kids, adults, teenagers, people in bikinis, shirtless guys, sandaled and bare feet. I remember wading into the deeper pockets of water and floating on my back. I remember the heat that the dry rocks held, the heat that the shallow pools kept. I remember the paths we took to get down there - both were steep and well-worn by travelers. I remember standing on the rocks and looking up to see a park ranger walking down the trail. I remember him glancing down at all of us. I remember how he kept on walking.
I remember building witches' towers at the edge of the ocean with my dad. I remember his fingers dripping with sandy mud, the tower rising up where the drops landed. I remember copying him, our towers gaining height and strength beside each other. I remember how the sunset colored the sky and darkened the ocean. I remember, when it was time to leave, asking him if the towers would be there when we came back, still standing so close to the ocean. I remember him saying he didn't know.
I remember the clock in our kitchen, the one that called out the hour in birdsong. I remember being scared of it. I remember loving it. I remember falling and banging my elbow in the threshold between the hardwood dining room and the linoleum kitchen. I remember Mom rushing to me and asking if I was all right. I remember saying I was, in the moment before my elbow began throbbing. I remember that bird clock looking down at me from across the kitchen while tears streaked across my face. I remember when the clock broke.
I remember the lakeweed in the lake by my grandparents' cottage, and the feeling of it brushing past my feet. I remember floating out past the dock on the tube to get away from it. I remember how strong the pull of the current was, reeling me back to shore. I remember fighting it with my cousins and siblings, all of us laughing, all of us trying not to get sucked back in. I remember our grandmother, watching us from under the brim of her pink visor. I remember here calling to us not to go out too far - there's boat traffic, she said. I remember our reassurances of "We won't!" I remember how the tide helped us keep that promise.