Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Motoring...What's Your Price for Flight?

Wednesday. Box packing day. I managed to get five done tonight, gathering up random leftover books, clothes from the closet, small appliances and miscellany. I find myself with a curious melancholy that is different from the "black cloud" of last week; its more like the painful departures of summers past when I was a camp counsellor.
Three months straight of 17 hour days looking out for the well being of other people's kids is a heck of a bonding experience for a group of teens and twenty-somethings. Kids have amazing, emotional revelations during those hot weeks, and we all learned lessons about how life changes on a dime. By the end of the summer every ritual takes on profound meaning, as it becomes the 'last'. The last staff meeting. The last flag raising. The last dining hall muster. The final chapel. You look hard into the faces of these friends, and wonder at how you can make brothers and sisters of strangers. Yet you have to let them go. And its extraordinarily painful to do that. What friends could be as good as these? Who will know us as well as they do? Who will inspire us to reach in and become a person of strength and substance, a person like they are?
I assumed that at thirty-five the partings would be softened by a certain philosophical perspective, blunted perhaps by the fact that at least in this phase of life I do not go on to face whatever comes on my own. Not so. The letting go is just as difficult. the future just as full of questions, though perhaps at this point I have some sense of what the answers will be.

But you, my friends, could never be replaced or equalled. Domo arigato gozaimashita.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thirty More Days

We're in the homestretch of this four month dual encampment and very soon Bry and I will be under (and paying for) one roof.

It hasn't been an easy week.

I kept busy, but I couldn't seem to stave off this black cloud that followed me everywhere. I was feeling detained. I was talking myself into getting up every morning. When I tried to explain it to people they'd make a wittle squinchy-winchy face and say, "Awww, do you miss him?". And I thought to myself, "You'd look awfully funny with a pen in your eye," but of course I kept this to myself. My home, my town, my familiar things all seem to mock me because its not home at all, because he isn't here. Its like a bad dream.

Then, of course, I start feeling guilty for feeling bad. Look at all those people down south who lost their lives, lost their homes. Or the people in Iraq who are separated 18 months or more whose husbands or wives may not come home at all. I'm just having trouble with four months? Come on. What a wuss.

At the same time I look at the friends I have who are beginning to confront the reality of my departure and they are beginning to express how sad they are. "You're breaking our hearts, you know," one says on Monday. So I'm trying to enjoy the time I have left with them and not be distracted by the difficulty of the separation. I don't know, as a friend was fond of saying, whether to s**t or go sailing.

And in the midst of this, I'm supposed to be studying for a state licensing exam. Oh. Okay. Needless to say I keep carrying the books around, but tomorrow morning I'm probably going to postpone the test. I need a couple more weeks to study.

So that ends my litany of complaints. On to the good stuff; spent an overnight with some college friends I hadn't seen in years and it was great. Great to see them, to see how well they are doing, and to remember what fun people they are. One is expecting in the winter and I didn't realize how interesting and cool her husband was because I only met him once. The other has two children that are the kind of kids that make you want to have kids. (As opposed to the screeching irklings across the street from me who are poster children for some sort of contraception. ) I suspect its a parenting thing. We laughed at pictures and struggled to remember names and realized how long its been since college. Apparently I had a mullet for much longer than I care to admit. (Or remember.)

I packed a bunch of boxes tonight, mostly books because that's the size I brought home. I'm starting to suspect that the books are spontaneously reproducing in my apartment. Slowly, the ratio of loose items to boxes is beginning to shift. I stopped packing for the night when I was tired of sneezing. Apparently I've been a wee bit lax in the dusting department.

So that's the news, not as much fun as earlier posts but hopefully a better week is coming. I've had this song in my head all day:

Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn't show your spirit quite as true
You were turning 'round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes

Now the things that I remember seem so distant and so small
Though it hasn't really been that long a time
What I was seeing wasn't what was happening at all
Although for a while, our path did seem to climb
But when you see through love's illusions, there lies the danger
And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool
So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger
While the loneliness seems to spring from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You've known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You've had to hide sometimes, but now you're all right
And it's good to see your smiling face tonight

Now for you and me it may not be that hard to reach our dreams
But that magic feeling never seems to last
And while the future's there for anyone to change, still you know it's seems
It would be easier sometimes to change the past
I'm just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love's pain and heartache school
Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
There's this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You've known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You've had to hide sometimes but now you're all right
And it's good to see your smiling face tonight

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You've known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You've had to struggle, you've had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight
You could be laughing at me, you've got the right
But you go on smiling so clear and so bright

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Category 5

We've seen a lot over the last few weeks. A hell of a lot. People at their best and worst. We have seen the Worst Case Scenario.
How prepared are you?
If you had to respond in a crisis, how would you fare? Imagine that these are your stories. Its your house. Your children. Your mom and dad.
How tightly are you holding on to things that the wind and water could take from you?
How honest have you been with the people you love?
Make sure they know how much you love them. And say a prayer together for the residents of Southeast Texas tonight.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked'st on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Monday, September 19, 2005

On Keeping It Real

OK, so since TwistedMe gave me a topic--true love, I guess that’ll be my next item, and also as sort of an apology to my husband for what he considers “excessive disclosure” in my last post!

Sometime during the Spring of 1992 I looked across the college commons at a guy slouched in a chair opposite me reading a paperback. I experienced a fleeting regret and I thought to myself, “Now there’s a guy I’ll never really get to know.”

Flash forward to November 23rd, 1996. I’m walking down the aisle in St. Patrick’s Church in Woodbury, NJ, with said guy.

In between there were several years of first tentative correspondence, then friendship, then courtship. By the time we made that walk we’d known each other 8 years, done triple the required marriage preparation voluntarily, and made a conscious decision not to live together until after the wedding.

Did we sail into the sunset of holy Catholic married bliss in which we did everything we were supposed to do and showered sunshiny happiness on all and sundry?

Hell, no.

For one thing, he inherited a craptastic amount of debt courtesy of yours truly’s idiocy in college. For another, I was working on a raging ball of anxiety/depression that was speeding toward a need, however temporary, for medication. We were too broke to have more than one car, he didn’t have a job yet, our apartment was smaller than my last college dorm room and was furnished with castoffs and a refrigerator from the Nixon administration that shed suspicious silver-gray flakes when I defrosted it with an icepick. I found out that when it comes to organization, bill paying, and housekeeping I am a lazy jerk. I found out that little crises seem to crackle in an orbit around His Nibs and we have had everything from small car accidents (once, two in a 48 hour period) to spontaneous combustion of our stove that resulted in a full alert response from the Thorndale Fire Department. For nine years we’ve been one paycheck away from disaster.

But here’s what we did have. He is for me. That’s the best way to explain it. He was, is, and always will be for me. Foreordained, intended, dumb luck, however you want to say it happened, he is for me. There is a space in this existence of mine that he fits into and when he is not here everything is off. I don’t even breathe right. He isn’t my best friend. A best friend is someone you complain about your boobs to and buy shoes with. He is the other part of myself that I didn’t know I was missing.

Neither of us is perfect, its not about that. We don’t stand around gawping at each other in gooney bliss. He is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I know this even when he’s criticizing my driving or broadcasting popcorn over a seven-foot radius of the movie-watching chair. Small prices to pay to be with someone with a kind heart, a keen wit, and an omnivorous desire to experience life. I couldn’t ask for much more.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Leaving Well Enough Alone

So I read fashion/beauty magazines. Sue me. I’m neither fashionable nor beautiful but I have this thing about makeup. Tips. Tricks. Pictures of all the colors smooshed together. Whatever. Like I’m going to spend $22 on Christian Dior lipstick. Not the point.
Anyone who kills some time and a few brain cells on these magazines knows there’s much talk of waxing and grooming oneself to a fare thee well, and that the coup de grace of fuzz removal is the Brazilian wax. For those who don’t know, it’s a little more than a bikini wax. Let’s just say it’s the difference between mowing your lawn and napalming the block. Now, I never had any intention of trying such a thing, never mind that it costs $65 minimum and requires an appointment; it involves a degree of intimacy that I usually reserve for a yearly visit to someone with lots of education, letters after her name, and a completely different reason.
Ah, but the siren song of advertising made me reconsider. Why fuss with all that when they make magical creams that do the same job in the same neighborhood in the comfort of your own home? I look at the attendant photos of dreamy and arguably non-hirsute women in some Mediterranean setting. Sally Hansen, you’re a genius. And I have no fears; this stuff has been around for years. I hear it even smells nice now. I popped in to my local drugstore and picked some up. You’d think I could resist such a pitch. You’d think that. But you’d be wrong.
By nature I’m a careful reader of directions. I’m not one of those people who tears into a project like a rabid raccoon and squints impatiently at the instructions only after failure to achieve the ‘desired result’. I read them. But if I was honest I’d have to call myself more of a ‘skimmer’. I’ve applied lots of chemicals to this body that bore the warning about ‘testing in a small area’ and waiting 24 hours, and I’ve never done it, and I’ve never had a problem. Some instructions are dogma.
I assembled my tools: the cream, a timer ( in case four minutes went by pretty quickly), and something to read (in case it didn’t), and put it on. I settled in with Rebecca Wells’ Ya-Ya’s In Bloom , just the sort of ‘sisters doin’ it for themselves’ book you should read during an advanced depilation session. Everything seemed to be going well until approximately 3 minutes and 26 seconds into the four minute process. That’s when The Unpleasantness started. Perhaps that is understating what was happening; I fully expected the bathroom to fill with the sort of hazy smoke that immediately follows the setting of a match to tinder. All attempts to neutralize the caustic reaction seemed to make it worse. And suddenly, uh huh you betcha, it was much, much worse. A tap dance in a very cold shower seemed to remove most of the chemical but none of the Pain, which was also not interested in reacting to any number of medications or, ultimately, a large icepack wrapped in a pillowcase.
I’d say, ah, the things we do for beauty. I’d say that, if the stuff really worked. After a result so powerful you could use this cream as some sort of attacker deterrent (provided, of course, your attacker could be held at bay by some other means approximately 3 minutes and 26 seconds) it didn’t actually remove anything it was supposed to remove.
Everyone has that photo of themselves as a kid with bangs that start at the corner of one eye and end somewhere four inches above the opposite eyebrow, the result of an experiment with safety scissors and taking control of one’s own style destiny. You’d think once would be enough to learn the lesson, the important life lesson about leaving well enough alone. You’d think that. But you’d be wrong.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Tonight I did up a flyer for all my neighbors for a potluck, welcoming the new folks and as a sort of farewell to me/us, though Bryan is already gone and won’t be back. I keep encountering sadnesses I hadn’t banked on; little things that I overlooked on the “Things I’ll Miss” list.
I made enough copies of the flyer to either stick one under each door or tape it on the outside (some have better weather stripping than others), so everyone knew they were welcome. As I trooped around the side to John’s place I remembered the January night when Andre and I waded in thigh deep snow from our front door to his, falling in it as we went, so he’d have safe passage to the impromptu dinner I’d made. I flumped in a drift as soft as a down comforter and laughed as I brushed it off in the odd orangey light of the snowstorm, one of the few we had, and at that, not much to write home about.
This building has been a true community, a “dorm for grownups”, as I’ve described it to new folks. The shared soup, jumpstarts, emergency rides to work, bull sessions in the hallway, and summer afternoon siestas on the porch have bound this ever-evolving family together. It is that family, that never feeling alone that has made it possible for me to endure three months of separation from Bryan as I prepare for this move. Some of them say I had something to do with pulling them all together. But that’s a choice anyone can make; not to live in isolation. It’s a habit of saying “Why not?” more often than “Gee, I wish…”. Its as easy as knocking on a door with a container of soup. Love never returns void.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Hating your Stuff

Before I put things in boxes I’m trying to make sure that everything I pack is something I want. I read an article about decluttering that said “If an item doesn’t serve you or bring you joy, get rid of it”.
That’s all well and good, I guess. The article didn’t go on to say “If an item represents an important milestone in your life and has meaning but for the most part takes up space in a manner that is inefficient and irritating, you should do THIS with it…”, which is really what I need.
I have no less than twelve race shirts. Most people who’ve done a bunch of races get very blasĂ© about shirts; they go immediately from the goodie bag to the pile of shirts one wears when cleaning the gutters, with perhaps one wearing to a social event in between. But what of the shirts from my first year of actual fitness, the shirts from my ascent from the couch potato bin to the starting line? Can’t ditch those. Just can’t. So I folded them more neatly, which (I reasoned) made them take up less space, and back in the drawer they went, with some blessing uttered over them regarding a deep-drawer shirt wearing rotation that I promised to implement.
I policed the ‘unmentionables’, making a pile of underthings obviously purchased on a day when I was feeling naughty and oblivious to peripheral concerns like comfort or blood circulation. (Hint: If its bigger than a C you have no business pushing it in any direction other than down and in. Up and together, as quoted in the ‘Holy Grail’, is right out.) I disposed of a pile of linty bandannas from an era that also saw horn-rimmed glasses the size of Direct TV dishes and acid washed jeans as part of my ensemble. The sock pairs I’d made from singles that lost their mates but were passably similar (Step-socks, if you will)
Now to the closet, aka the guilt racks. Tons of pants given to me by an Orthodox friend who no longer wears pants. Dresses, origin unknown. Stuff I was grateful for but never really wanted. All of these went in plastic bags for Goodwill. Someone might want a short sleeved, brocaded wool dress. I do not. I’ve come to terms with this. It was like losing twenty pounds instantly, denuding those hangers and stuffing those items in bags. I can hardly wait to plow through piles of uncomfortable kitten heels and ill-advised purses and fill another bag. Or three.
There are still corners where sentiment lurks, little squirrel nests of memories, little cutesy cards and photos and doo-dads made for me by this or that child, especially mushy birthday cards stuck between things that I can’t part with. I’m not ready to come to terms with the rubber banded stacks of photos from my 10th Grade Band trip, or the August 2004 Vacation scrapbook that taunts me from a brown paper bag in the bedroom, all the happiness and good intention scattered in pieces like the Scarecrow by a flock of malicious flying monkeys. I will put it together. I will.

Friday, September 09, 2005

"Good Morning, America, How Are You?"

So I’m driving to work today and 88.5 WXPN in Philadelphia is doing a ‘Day of Hope’, celebrating the music and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I’ve never been driven to tears by Arlo Guthrie but every song seems to remind me of what has been lost.
In the spirit of the ‘Day of Hope’ I offer my own experience of the area.
April, 1988. I was a high school senior. The school year had started with the death of my de facto stepfather and a subsequent spiral of financial difficulty too tiresome to recount. We were invited to New Orleans by friends/de facto relatives of the aforementioned stepfather and I made a very un-teenage decision to forego my senior class trip to Orlando and spend a week on the West Bank with my mom.
We flew into New Orleans International Airport on a weekday morning and my first impression of Louisiana was a wall of humidity; a force field that seemed to hang in the small space between the airplane and the jetway like a curtain one was obligated to shoulder to get into the terminal. The terminal itself was decorated in Early Warehouse, they were in the process of remodeling and it was a litter of sawhorses, plastic sheeting, and fluorescent lights hanging askew over a gray concrete floor.
Our friends were eager to show us the best of the city, and I remember feeling as though I’d been suddenly ushered into an adult world previously closed to me. Here I was, seventeen years old, listening to Bo Diddley live at Storyville and drinking my first whiskey sour. I walked St Peter and gaped at the wrought iron balconies and shutters and although I’d not yet traveled internationally I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a city in another country. The city just had a distinct ‘otherness’ to it, a flavor of exotic mystery that made me dizzy and fueled my imagination. Everything seemed to move at a sultry pace there. My sadness at the devastation is wound up in a sense memory that is just as clear as it was then; careening through the streets five in one cab, crushed up against the Haitian cab driver who cheerfully drove like Jeff Gordon, a passel of talismans hanging from his rearview mirror. Standing on the back porch watching tiny green lizards skitter across the screen door. Sitting cross-legged on the floor at Preservation Hall like a child at story time, eavesdropping on the bewildering intricacy of Creole, which I had never heard before. Hanging in the back of the tour group at Oak Alley Plantation after the heat combined with two mint juleps gave my mother an intractable fit of giggles. Wondering at the large crowd at the CafĂ© du Monde at 1:30am (which to me was very, very late), then taking a stroll down the side alley to watch them make the beignets. And the people, the beautiful array of people, with their deliberate way of talking and that slow, broad smile when I explained I’d given up Sea World and Disney and Epcot Center with my friends to come to their city, and why wouldn’t you, cher, it’s the best city in the world.

Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.
Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

And So, it Begins

Well, people keep telling me I need to write something that everyone can see documenting our move. We're loading up the truck and a' movin' to 'Someplace that's Green', in this case, very, very green. I've been a peripheral Philly area dweller my entire life, and I'm moving to the land of Agway and gun racks. This'll be the place to go for updates, musing, and amusement that is our life.