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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.

chrysalis

A chrysalis (Latin chrysallis, from Greek χρυσαλλίς = chrysallís, pl: chrysalides, also known as an aurelia) or nympha is the pupal stage of butterflies. The term is derived from the metallic gold-coloration found in the pupae of many butterflies, referred to by the Greek term χρυσός (chrysós) for gold. […] Like other types of pupae, the chrysalis stage in most butterflies is one in which there is little movement. (wikipedia)

I woke up this morning and remembered not to fling my eyes open. My apartment for these days is heated by efficient electric radiators that dry out the air and my corneas don’t care for this environment, but I smear them with gel at night and cross my fingers in the mornings. Two weeks from today, I will wake up for the first time in my new house. In the meantime, I am here in Toronto, in a lovely nook of a lovely old house a few steps away from bakeries and falafel shops. Snow falls sparingly but swiftly and silently. Curls of steam rise from the pot of water simmering on the stove a few feet away.

The habits of three-quarters of a year are not easily shaken. I cough and cough, and check the temperature (-14C! 7F! Too damn cold no matter which scale you use!) and look out the window to gauge the snow. In my head, I thought I would spend these two weeks out in the city, tramping and traipsing, camera in hand. But this stupid cough is lingering and my chest is congested and I feel tired and guilty for not seizing every moment. Myron reminds me that I’m supposed to be decompressing now, and not worrying about what’s not getting done. I understand this in my brain, but I’m not sure how to go about it. The things I’d love to accomplish this year line up on a list like CGI soldiers in an epic battle scene, wound like springs and ready. The thought of outfitting the new house is ominous. Furnishing it? Paint colors? Where my desk belongs? I can’t imagine; I haven’t been inside it and I don’t know how low the ceilings feel or how the echoes will resonate or the angle of the incoming light through the windows and these qualities, the ones that cannot be articulated in any realtor’s listing, decide things for me more than the photos of lovely interiors I have saved to my hard drive.

And ah, the email reminder about trash pickup just hit my inbox. But it’s for Ottawa’s trash pickup, and I clicked unsubscribe and there is one more dividing line between there and here and the next there.

Since I was a teenager, guilt has been a constant companion. I have guilt over things I can control and things I can’t and things that other people should really own instead of me. Once I hit my late thirties I was more able to say fuck it and not let it overburden me as much as before, but even then, it’s not something I succeed at more often than I fail. I have worn a dent in my shoulder, carrying this guilt around like a bag of groceries. And I would like to say No More, but I know that in practice saying No More is one thing and living it is another. It would take more thoughtfulness than I think I have in me right now. So I will still carry some guilt because I have this dent in my shoulder that makes it hurt a little less than it might if I were not shaped to carry it. I will wear it on my hips and in the creases at the corners of my eyes and behind the light reflected in graying hair. I will make promises to myself and the people who have to deal with me about letting go of it, piece by piece, when I can. I’m not stupid enough to think I’m hiding it, nor am I willing to take on any more than I already have. Every time I put down one more bit of it, I’m going to stand up a little straighter. I may even have put a bit down right now, by writing this, and I may leave it here in this little apartment that held me like a golden shell during a time of little movement and frigid temperatures and waiting for wings.

list one: things I worry about

  1. that I have packed something that is crucial to us getting through the next four weeks, something crucial enough that it will result in wasting money and upsetting people whose jobs I have made more difficult out of my own airheadedness
  2. that our internet will not get connected in a timely fashion in the new house
  3. that I have spent too much money
  4. that I will spend too much money
  5. that I have written the wrong postal code on the Christmas cards I sent out with the new address
  6. that there is a glaring, expensive repair that will need to be made on the new house within the first year
  7. that the No Good Very Bad Ottawa Roofer will thrive in his business by taking advantage of others
  8. that I will go stir-crazy on the train trip from Toronto to Winnipeg and start bothering strangers and/or begging them to play Train Yahtzee (the rules of which I will invent [guess where])
  9. that I will get sick (again) sometime in the next four weeks because tis the season
  10. that I will get sick of being so near my in-laws
  11. that my in-laws will get sick of being so near to me
  12. that after six months of lonely solo living, having to go through living-together rough spots all over again will result in sniping and eyerolling and bad feelings between Myron and me
  13. that a 20-cm dumping of snow will happen on the day the movers arrive
  14. that my ambitious hopes for the year will be forgotten by March
  15. that I am going to break something impossibly old in the new house
  16. that I will hate my book when I go back into this revision
  17. that I will really miss my refrigerator even more than I think I will, and also, that this says something so materialistic and tacky about me that I should be ashamed of committing it to the internet (this worry tempered by Allison’s love of her own fridge)
    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. 

months vs. seconds

It’s awkward to write after long pauses, especially to write something with substance. You’d think I would know this by now. Whenever I tried to write, I realized that the results always read like complaints and I deleted draft after draft. A part of me had chalked up the whole year to badness and disappointment, and I didn’t want to ruminate on things I was powerless to change. (Hence no Reverb or Reverbish efforts this year.) There is no denying the sadness of being apart from Myron for so many months, or the frustration of contractors who miss deadlines without calling, or the rigmarole of selling a house, a process which has absolutely no good parts except for the fact that eventually you get to buy a new one.

I simmered in unpleasant feelings. Selling your house is inviting strangers to critique every bit of it, every corner, weighing your color choices and housekeeping skills and the contents of your refrigerator. As much as I tried to divorce my sense of Home from the building itself, I mostly failed at this and compensated with freakouts, insomnia, oversleeping, ABC Afterschool Specials on YouTube, and popcorn with pimentón de la vera. My lack of control amplified everything that was less than perfect with stereophonic self-blame. When the house sold and I told myself I could let go of the breath I’d been holding since May, it turned out that my body was too used to not breathing and had evolved past it. To a large extent, I am still tense at every joint, barely sleeping, unable to calm down.

I am aware of the problem of scale here. I know that these are not major problems and that people face worse all the time. To that I say three things: First, of course I know that. Second, no one ever knows the whole story. Third, twice now my eyelid has torn off a chunk of my cornea when I woke up in the morning. This is a thing that happens now. I have created my own ecosystem of stress and I need my own Darwin to catalog it all.

In a few short weeks Myron will be back here, the movers will load everything into trucks, and we’ll be off. Soon after I’ll be unpacking boxes in the new house, which just passed its hundredth birthday. I will rediscover all the things I put away in the summer back when Gullible Me thought this would be over with long ago.

I hope for the best. I do. The long, rich autumn this year was a blessing. When the snow finally came I almost didn’t even mind. And I managed to shoot a picture I’ve wanted to shoot for years, ever since I noticed that snowflakes really do look like this if you catch them in the right conditions. They vanish in seconds. At least for me, ephemeral things teach lessons that lasting things can’t.

brimstone and phosphorus

When my littlest brother was in nursery school, he came home with this book about death called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. I read it. Freddie rustles in the breezes and offers shade for picnicking old people and then October comes with the cold and wind, and everyone changes color. A kindly leaf tells Freddie that everybody dies, and at the end, even though Freddie said he was absolutely not going to die, wheeeeeeee Freddie falls and it’s as orgasmic as that saying about skidding into your grave at full throttle shouting What a Ride!

My tree has gone Freddie, all yellow and autumn-smelling and on its way to its annual nakedness. It’s a big tree, lots of leaves. Lots of raking. Next year I may not even have a tree at all to clean up after. The little girl in me who learned wrong lessons about death too early does not like autumn or falling leaves or anything that speaks of endings. The rest of me tries to talk some sense into that little girl and to be the kindly leaf. Life is change. You’re alive, still. You change, and everything changes around you. You are not the center of the storm. You are made of it and every time you breathe you stir things up some more.

I have been quiet in a lot of ways since spring, mostly because to talk of the minutiae of this life (the packing, the loneliness, the damn shoulder) feels one-note to me, and though I fail a lot, I try not to be one-note. I myself am sick of what I have to say. I wish, instead of bagging up all these leaves in environmentally sound paper leaf bags for the city to haul away, I could be piling their dry husks into an old metal barrel and tickety-boom setting them on fire. This is what I need right now, a good hot blaze instead of a slow decay.

The good news: I swear I smell it, just a hint. Mixed in with the clean chill of the air and the musty fallen leaves, overpowering the parade of pumpkin-spiced this and pumpkin-spiced that, and in concert with geese flying south: sulfur and phosphorus, a freshly struck match. Maybe it’s some kind of anticipatory hallucination, maybe it’s hope or a memory, and maybe it’s someone down the street with more balls than I have. It gives me nerve. It smells better than I can tell you.