list two: uprooting

  1. There were boxes everywhere, but mostly in a large stack in the middle of the basement, our books and papers and heavy, sturdy things. And then the closets, where I stacked our clothes and the things from my desk and the top of the dresser, heavy glass candles and dishes my grandmother made during the war. Myron came home late at night, exhausted after working all day and flying for hours.
  2. Every time he goes away for more than a few days, there is a moment on his return when I look at his face and don’t recognize him. Then the truth of him reappears and I cannot remember what it felt like to be empty of it.
  3. The next day, we packed and packed. I left too much of the kitchen to the last minute. We used more rolls of tape than I can even tell you, more boxes, more paper. He constructed two-box hybrids to encase mirrors, artwork, and even the plant he nurtured from tinydom into almost-treedom. Before eleven, we were done.
  4. It was the first time ever—ever, in all my moves, and there have been so many—that I finished at a reasonable hour on the day I meant to, instead of staying up all night. Still I woke up needlessly early the next day, frantic and tightly wound. No matter how many times you go through this, I can’t imagine that it ever becomes routine and unsusceptible to gigantic error.
  5. We slid our suitcases into the bathroom and tried to stay out of the way of the movers, who were everywhere. More snow had fallen the night before, and the door stayed open all day. We ended up hiding in the bathroom, devices in hand, while the heavy boots and low voices echoed through the rapidly emptying house. I thought to take pictures, but the scene was nothing I’d want to remember, so I left the camera in its case.
  6. We cleaned. Scrubbed. I polished the refrigerator shelves and freezer bins and the cooktop. Myron cleaned the bathroom, swept the basement. The last thing I did was spray the almond-scented cleaner and buff the hardwood one last time. While I pushed the velvety mop in little circles, I invented and sang an impolite song that made Myron smile. No, I won’t sing it for you.
  7. We caught a bus to the city. I dragged my massive suitcase behind me, mounted my backpack on my shoulders, wrapped myself in gloves and hat and coat. The cold was unbelievable. I stopped twice to cough and cough and cough. I walked along the highway for the last time, mostly on an unpaved shoulder. After about ten minutes I stopped feeling my legs, but somehow they kept moving. The hot breath trapped by my scarf clouded my glasses with steam. I counted breaths until I made it to the intersection, crossed the street, and then counted breaths some more. The suitcase lolled on its cheap wheels and I let it fall and picked it up again. I couldn’t speak the entire ride. In the hotel that night—the same hotel where I stayed my first night in Ottawa, the place where I said yeah, I could stay here—I slept like the dead.
  8. Friday morning we signed a few papers and split up. Myron went to the national archives and I went for my last haircut with the astronomically talented Kim. I wonder about these curls and how they’ll fare in the hands of someone less talented. These days, they bounce and swoop and I should really take a picture of them before they grow out.
  9. And then we left, and I feel like I should have felt more, but maybe I had spent so many weeks feeling so damn much that there was nothing left to feel. Instead, there has been gentle quiet in my temporary home, and no pressure, and sleep, and coconut sorbet, and a bit of transplant shock, and tabbouleh.

For a while now I’ve been wanting to do a year’s worth of lists a la hula seventy. Let’s see how long I can keep this up.

it's a sin that somehow light is changing to shadow: #scintilla, day 3

After a day off from the project yesterday, I am back with Day 3’s post “Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.” I wrote this post in 2004, during my time on a short-lived blogging site called scribblejournal, and I’m reusing it because I want to spend more time reading others than writing here today. It is a little purple at times, but other than that, I am sentimentally attached to it, which is quite an accomplishment for eight-year-old writing. It was in response to this prompt: something you finished too late. I almost never write about this topic, and never have in this depth under my real name. And maybe it was not finished too late at all.

Those were days when I traded and hoarded mix tapes that were made for me. By now they’ve all gone thin and snapped, except a few. An older brother of an older friend had made a tape for me that fall, complete with artwork on the liner and with all the solemnity that comes from a thirty-year-old man making a tape for a girl who’s nineteen and professes to love Pink Floyd. The tape was laden with the obscure songs I hadn’t heard on my midnight drives home on DVE, when I’d stay out later than I even wanted just so that I could come home with the Floyd Fix.

At the time I thought I’d go to culinary school or commit suicide. The previous twelve months I had destroyed almost everything I touched. Things were coming for me in just a few months, but I didn’t know it then, and I spent my days selling 4x8 sheets of plywood and wet red bricks that smell like something you don’t talk about to your little brother. I preferred my silence and my Tanqueray Sterling for those days, and you were still a little boy with a crush on Danielle Fishel.

The car was a little slip of a thing, made for a girl; it didn’t drive fast enough to make my mother nervous about me taking you around in it. The night I bought it, my first brand-new car, I drove you around in it, through our hometown, playing music and talking to you as though you were someone my own age. Almost ten years younger than me, you weren’t yet old enough to be the asshole you would pretend to be later, and you were one of the few things in my life that I didn’t treat with detached coolness. Your eyes were better than any other eyes in our house; they looked like a green and gold glass vase that had been shattered on topsoil after a thunderstorm. I couldn’t look at you without seeing a wonder who called all his friends by their first and last names, as though I couldn’t keep track of them, as if knowing that someday you’d have too many for anyone to tally. I learned how children learned to pronounce things by watching you; I learned the way people learned to think. I learned how new words got stuck in your head and I learned the lyrics to “Just Me and My Dad.” I wanted to give you something, to be that sister.

Along the road to Victory Hill through the township, I pointed out where my friends lived and I played you the mix tape. Amid all those obscure never-on-DVE songs he’d thrown in “On the Turning Away.” It was quiet in the car, and the silence behind that voice brought us to silence ourselves. “It’s sad,” you said. “It gets less sad,” I said. Could you have understood those lyrics back then, so small I put the seat belt on you myself, never ever thinking that a seat belt would have saved your life six years later? A fucking seat belt. Fabric. It would have kept you here, maybe having momentary twinges when you heard Pink Floyd, remembering your sister driving you around. After that one, I played “Wish You Were Here.” You couldn’t pick up the words to that one. Years later our brother would play it for me on his guitar, slowly and precisely, and it would echo in his tiny apartment. It was a too-on-the-nose moment, looking back, but when your heart pours out from you there is no such thing as too-on-the-nose.

I never finished with you. You never finished anything, except winning seasons and probation terms. Even your destruction isn’t finished; I know its waves can be detected from New Mexico and Georgia and the damn Crab Nebula. We took you once to the hill by the cemetery, and the three of us talked like friends instead of siblings, but I never got to tell you anything important, not ever. I waited for you to get older, thinking what we would become when you got your teens out of your way, when you wanted to hear someone else. Instead I would never see those greengoldbrown eyes again; I search for their liquid light in photographs of you, but it is never there. I didn’t know that you weren’t getting any older than you were that day on the hill, that we would bring you to the cemetery soon after carried on the shoulders of your teammates, and that the only thing I’d finish, because the grieving doesn’t stop, would be the story about the day we cruised through the Valley and we played Pink Floyd.

rites of passage: #scintilla, day 1

They tell you not to overload your work with backstory. Nobody needs it! No1curr! But I will tell you that in the days before this story I was in Kona and Honolulu with friends and crush-objects and all that wind and sand and water and a million million t-shirt shacks. I browned in the sun for hours and grew up in ways I could never have expected. The day I came home, I slept for almost an entire day, and when I woke up my mother handed me a very official envelope that had come in the mail while I was gone.

Inside that envelope was The Card. You took the card to The Office and stood on a piece of tape on the floor, and when it was all over and done with, you had your driver’s license. It was 1990 and I was sixteen.

It took me a long time to get up the nerve to drive. My mother and stepfather both scared me for years about getting into wrecks… not so much for the damage I could do to my person, but for the expense, the humiliation, the idea that I would never be allowed to drive again if I did any damage to their cars. We had even been in a pretty bad family car accident once when I was a tween; a young woman went through a stop sign and destroyed our old Celebrity. So if they weren’t afraid of being hurt in a wreck, I was. I knew what happened when people weren’t careful.

By the time I was fifteen, though, both of my parents were ready to stop driving a carful of teenagers everywhere we wanted to go. Neither of them trusted me with their cars, so they paid for private driving lessons, during which a bored older gentleman taught me the three-point turn in a parking lot. For six weeks, I overcame the fear, driving slowly through a wealthy neighborhood with curvy, wide roads. I learned that sometimes, you hit the bunny rabbit to avoid hitting another car, and that you never forget what that sounds like. I turned sixteen in August, but I didn’t pass my test until March of the following year. I was in no rush.

When I woke up after that jet-lag coma to find The Card in its very important envelope, I pulled on a black t-shirt that I’d picked up from a tourist trap in Kona. My mother grimaced. “Don’t you want to dress up?” Her driver’s license pictures were glam, silky tops with ruffles around the collar, a blazer, liquid rouge and eyeliner and eyeshadow and earrings and tall tall permed curls. But I could still feel the ocean in my muscles and the salt in my hair. I still felt like I was in Hawaii. To appease her, I consented to a quick round with the curling iron on my bangs. (I say it again: It was 1990 and I was sixteen.)

I took the keys and drove a few towns away to The Office. It was the first time I had driven alone in my life, but no one wanted to go with me, and I’d passed my test weeks ago. I turned on the radio, used my turn signals and mirrors, melded with the flow of traffic. I felt tanned and capable and well-traveled and adult.

It was a weekday, a workday, and the street in front of The Office was a one-way with metered parking on each side. A block or so away from The Office was a parking lot, but a space opened up right in front of the building. Of course I can do parallel parking. It was on the test. I smoothly pulled up next to the car in front of me, backed into the space with grace, put the car into drive, and stepped on the gas too hard, smashing into the car in front of me.

If you have never hit another car, you are amazing. For the rest of us, we know the cold flood of panic, the way that everything stops until you’re sure of what’s damaged and what’s fine. I said “Oh God Oh God Oh God” a few hundred times. The pertinent facts filtered in: Not only had I caused financial expense, I hadn’t even gotten hurt enough to elicit sympathy and fear in my parents.

Screwed. I would never drive again.

An older woman tapped on my window. “I think you hit my car.”

Oh God Oh God Oh God.

That woman was a peach. She patted my shaking hand and then examined her scratched and dented rear bumper. “It’s not that bad, honey. We probably won’t even need the insurance company.”

I said, “I can’t give you my license because I don’t even have it yet!”

“You’re underage?”

“Oh. No. I just—” I waved at The Office and wailed. “I was supposed to go get my picture taken!”

She handed me a piece of paper with her information. “Give that to your mother.” She walked to her car and opened her door.

“Wait!” She turned around. “We have to wait for the police! We can’t leave the scene of an accident without the police!”

I wish I could remember her name, but I was still trembling so hard and all I could remember was her kindness and her patience. “We don’t need the police for a little old thing like this. Just give that paper to your mother and tell her to give me a call. Go get your picture.”

She drove away and I walked to The Office. When I looked back at the car, its plastic front bumper barely scratched, I could see that I was still parked about eight or ten inches away from the curb. And then I went inside, and a few minutes later I stood at the tape line and smiled.

I am still this bad at parallel parking, even today, although I manage to get closer to the sidewalk these days. Every single time I have to do it, I flash back to that lurching feeling as I stepped on the gas and felt a car—an expensive death machine—going out of control. But look at me. Just look at me. Even then, I knew that you could be scared out of your wits, your body refusing to listen to your mind, and still put a smile on my face.

Scintilla Project, Day 1 (prompt b): Life is a series of firsts. Talk about one of your most important firsts. What did you learn? Was it something you incorporated into your life as a result?