in between

This time each year I like to reflect on the highs and lessons learned, this is the year the planets nearly touched. 

This was the year Jupiter and Saturn crossed paths after 800 years apart. They looked like two minuscule dots in the sky. Isn't it striking how we are tinier than grains of sand, yet from our insect perspective, see the planets equally as small? Nearly untraceable in the blur of street lamps and fluorescent store fronts flickering out like dying candles. 

While slicing zucchini to fry them with mushrooms, the smell of the freshly washed white mushrooms reminded me of a childhood memory. The smell of earth and soil, smelled just like the mushrooms I washed and patted with a paper towel for lunch.

There was a building on the side of a road where my mom took me along for a ride to grow mushrooms. That side of the road had a giant truck tire, like a mail post, marking the spot. The building was long and narrow, no windows or light, with rows of shelves going up and up further than I could see. On each shelf there were little white mushrooms peeking out from the black soil. My mom attended to each one with tenderness and care, and I watched and sank my fingers in the moist edges of the shelves as I trailed behind her. It was very warm inside the darkness and while I remember feeling like I was holding my breath, it also felt like we were alone together in space. Seeing the line of light as she opened the door and called for me to leave was a pang in my heart. 

Looking back, I remember all our walks around the pond and weekend bike trips to the beach. Those moments under the shade of our favorite tree by the harbor, listening to the waves crashing with the rocks below, the summer wind tangling my hair and curling the pages of my book. Sharing a serving of fries and a cold coffee. Those were the early days of sticky pages, summer sunsets, hard laughter and watery eyes. The end of fall and coming of winter did something to me, made it harder to get out of bed. No matter how much I sleep, I am still always tired and my eyes are swollen. If it were up to me, I'd do it all over again. Stop chasing time. I'd like to be lying on my beach towel at the park, listening to the wind and watching the trembling leaves and clouds move along like a speeding train while I remain perfectly still. 

As I write this, I hear my family chatting about this or that. The lights on the holiday tree reflect in a decorative mirror on the desk, and when the voices quiet I hear the highway and the thunder of fireworks rumbling somewhere far away but close. I know I have to go and share a celebratory toast. My body feels heavy and warm, full of hearty meals and several cups of tea. I feel a thudding in my chest and observe the blue and green lights in the mirror, remembering and not quite ready to move.

Magic falling backwards

November is the darkness catching up with the day too soon. The pitch black outside a window. It is the shock of the sudden brightness when someone walks across the parking lot and activates the motion sensor light. The same electric shock runs through my body when an object thuds on the ceiling in the apartment above. It's the flight response when a train screeches on the tracks, the rushing of heat and jolting pulse in my throat. The same flashing panic when I see 00 00 on the digital clock and for a moment think the time has run out. November is a peculiar dream of standing outside a noisy, crowded room, looking towards the light, and a voice warning me there are demons inside. The fear latches onto me and I close my eyes as I enter, seeing with my hands, bumping and brushing past warm bodies in motion, never opening my eyes.

November is an almost unbearable quiet. Spending so much time at home, I have become more acquainted with its language and any break in pattern is unsettling. Everything runs on schedule. The clicking and clanking of the heat running through the pipes, the hum behind a wall, the rumbling fridge starting up like an old man clearing his throat, the cracking when the building takes a deep breath when it gets cold or raining, water dribbling, a radio turning on, the thump of the same shoe falling off the shoe rack in the hallway. The introduction of a new sound, the drip drip, interrupts the hiss, sends chills down my spine. The incessant tap  tap  tap, like a shaky leg under a table, is as loud and as infuriating as a jackhammer.

November is watching the leaves swirling outside in a storm. It is the walk after sunset, on the lookout for rabbits, who have come to represent little signs of hope. They sit very still, alone, on a lawn, pretending to be statues to elude predators. November is a promise of a letter when I see the pulsing white light from underneath my phone, resting upside down on the nightstand, like a searchlight out at sea. I am easily stirred. Reading a message from a friend, or listening to a voicemail, eases the aching to connect. November is standing by the window in the morning light and watching the last leaves fall. It's calling out to ask him to come look, look how they fall in slow motion like torn pieces of paper, and then calling out again to look how the wind rises them up again like magic falling backwards.

The fall comes too soon and leaves too early

A woman standing on the sidewalk is looking down at a dropped bottle of wine, holding a small paper bag torn on the bottom. Its red juice oozes out like blood onto the pavement and between the cracks of the shattered bronze glass. She holds the bag in her hand, frozen in a loss for what to do next. Two little girls peddling on a bicycle and tricycle are approaching, and a passerby's voice says "Oh my" and adds "be careful, glass up ahead!" People can be so cruel to one another, but sometimes little warning signs like these restore my faith in humanity.

Sitting on the balcony, the air smells of the earth and the dying of things. This summer was so peacefully quiet that I've been trying to ignore its departure, turning away from the leaves changing colors, in denial of summer's end. I cannot help noticing the pile of orange leaves pushed against the street gutters, how they dry and crackle with the slightest stir. On a walk through the woods one weekend, sitting on the edge of a cold stone bench atop a romantic lookout spot, I see red and orange leaves up high on the tips of trees and sigh a deep sigh. The colors are breathtaking and I feel as though an iron gate in my chest had drawn open.

On my back at the pond, I look up at the infinite blue and the way sunlight touches the trees. A fisher flies across, swift as a knife cutting through, followed by a hawk making a quick turn, and then a goose flapping his wings in the most ungainly way in comparison to the graceful bird preceding him. I close my eyes and watch the flashes of light dance on my eyelids, every time I follow a spot it moves away. A live band begins to play across the water, soft drumming and saxophone, smooth 80s pop, I think. I sit up and watch people walking past come to the shore to listen to the music and cheer, and then they clap in unison with a group on the other side. I begin to feel cold and lie there for a moment more to listen to the end of the last song and the drumming in my chest. 

I'm biking to the office on a foggy and warm day, and when I get there, talk to more than the usual share of people. "Let's come in" I say, leading the conversation away from the elevators. Despite the masks on our faces, eyes have become more honest than ever. When someone is truly smiling, they wrinkle and look as though someone who has come alive is shining a flashlight behind them as if to say "I'm here! You can see me, I can't believe you can see me!" 

On the way home, I see a white goose among the wild ones. The theory is, someone abandoned a domestic egg, and the wild geese adopted the hatched bird. There is another theory, the goose hatched on a farm and flew to freedom. There is one more theory, someone got tired of their pet goose and left him there. Either way, the wild geese adopted him and can't tell the difference.

I'm standing across the street, observing the view in two windows in the same building, one floor above and below. Both have a television setup on the same wall, tuned to the same channel at the exact same moment. I think it is a reflection at first, but no. A silhouette meanders in both, unaware of each other's togetherness in the same aloneness. 

At the register in the grocery store, I watch the cashier through the glass partition as he slides one item after the other over the scanner. He slides the greeting cards and keeps holding them in the other hand, fanning them out and looking at them for longer than necessary. A birthday, floral arrangements, funny birds, and one because I like the texture of the paper. Is he connecting all the parts to make a whole story? I wonder, but he asks if I want to hold onto them instead of placing them in the bag. "Yes" I say, "thank you."

Then at the library, I am asked to speak a little louder when I ask the librarian behind another glass partition why one of my books is marked overdue even though I returned it a week ago. Apparently, books go to quarantine too.

While standing up on a ladder in the kitchen and examining the ceiling, I'm listening to a memoir by Lyudmilla Petrushevskaya and have to climb down immediately to bookmark an interesting place. There are two kinds of people who go to theaters, she says, the kind who go to forget and the kind who go to remember. I am the latter. 

The radiators have started to rattle in the early mornings, the valves clatter and clank as the steam rises up the pipes that sounds like someone is communicating in Morse code from the depths of the basement. It gets darker much quicker now, days are getting shorter, and I'm already falling asleep an hour early. I've made myself a ritual out of writing something every day, capturing the present as it happens. My journal is full of writing in present tense and a handful of honey locust leaves. I have only a few empty pages left, and pick up blank notebooks from the bookshelf to flip through them and imagine the life they could live. I can't decide which one I want to write next.

The last days of summer

The most pleasant sensation is slowing drifting into a soft sleep while lying on the ground on a slanted patch near the pond. Even more sensational, is to take time waking to the warm touch of a cool summer breeze and the rustling of leaves. 

Summer is nearing the end. The leaves and grass are now a dull green, the hydrangea turned brown, dried and fallen off like so many others. The rose bushes, the last to bloom, are too losing their flowers. In the evenings, crickets and tree frogs chirp their territorial love songs. The rhythmic sound beats like a drum in the tunnel of trees, beneath a speckled night sky of stars and planets I cannot differentiate. Morning doves have started cooing once more, a gentle awakening.

The city is picking up pace. Orange traffic tickets decorate cars parked down the street unmoved for months. The car covered with a thin layer of pollen and flat tires had a handwritten note tucked behind the windshield wiper - Hey, would you be interested in selling this car? it read. The sidewalk has expanded to make room for pedestrians and cyclists, then narrowed and expanded again to accommodate makeshift outdoor restaurant seating. Ladies in black gowns and foils in their hair sit on chairs underneath rainbow parasols outside the hair salon. The garbage bins are overfilled with cardboard boxes, mattresses, and Ikea furniture, while moving vans and shipping containers keep coming and going.

At the grocery store, people calmly line up behind yellow tape but crowd inside the produce aisles like a group of runners released into the race. Assessing the situation, I walk quickly to retrieve radishes while holding my breath every time. 
 
One of these afternoons, I read a little bit on the balcony and watched the rain trickling in a smooth line as a formation of grey clouds dimmed the light. The smell of soil and warm concrete filled the air and I thought to myself, this is what summer smells like. A single sun ray set aside the clouds and drew its golden light across the floorboards. Stepping out again later that same evening I was faced with a next door neighbor, who was out and ate a handful of potato chips from a crinkly bag while maintaining eye contact. Neither of us said anything.

With the last summer storm, the sky rumbled and lightning flashed like someone turned the light switch off and on, off and on. Dark clouds covered the sky and the street was engulfed in a deep blue, almost complete darkness with the exception of the faint street lamps and red reflecting on the shiny cars on the parking lot. I fell asleep like a cat curled on the edge of the bed, because I was too lazy to wash my feet.

A young robin perched on the branch of a tree outside the window. All day, he cried and flapped his wings until the mother bird arrived every few minutes and stuck a worm down his beak. At one point two cardinals came flying around from branch to branch, circling each other and making a great deal of noise. The chick fluffed his feathers and lowered his body, sitting very still and quiet, baffled by the adults' antics.

As I pull on my socks and settle in front of the computer for the day, with the clicking of keyboards and the whiny voice of the woman across the street complaining on her phone for the thousandth time (bless her father, the most patient man who puts up with her daily crying fits!), the cold in my fingertips takes me back to the happy memories of this summer. I am cycling behind my husband in all of them, towards the ocean, towards the shade under our new favorite tree on the edge of the water, towards stretching our legs, sharing fries and satiating our thirst for fresh air and blue skies.
 
Nearly half the year has flown by and I feel the familiar melancholy, a stillness within me, like that of all Sundays on a bigger scale. The end of every summer is bittersweet, but this one is even more so.  
 
 

On the pulse

[T]he whole point of a journal is this seizing events on the wing. Yet the substance will come not from narration but from the examination of experience, and an attempt, at least, to reduce it to essence.
May Sarton's journals, The House by the Sea, felt like reading a long letter from a dear friend. I found myself comforted by her daily entries, the observations of the plants in her garden, her pet companions, vast friendships, her self awareness and reflections, and her dedication to her daily writing. She often writes feeling surprised in regards to young people relating to her work on the experience of aging. What makes her work so relatable is her keen awareness of the world around her, and her gratitude and presence in it.

Mainly, what I wanted to note about May Sarton's writing is this. Life is brief, like the Spring, and we don't need to wait until our youth and health is dwindling to appreciate it. The heart of so many creatives is this deep rooted appreciation and celebration of life and our experiences.

I'd like to end this brief book report with an entry from my journal.
Today has been an exceptionally warm day. All the pink hues of Spring have been replaced with luscious greens. Walking on the back streets among the mansions and gardens, I'm reminded of beautiful scenes from Studio Ghibli films. There are chipmunks and rabbits, and lilies of the valley, even pastel pink ones! I'm enjoying the remaining warmth of today on the balcony. On my left there is a family with a little girl sprawled out on a blanket. She looks at her mother's hands, occupied with something I cannot see from my point of view. I stand to try to see, but feel like an awkward photographer twisting for a better angle - so I stop. I watch the silhouette against the white shower curtain in a bathroom window, a man lathering his hair and body with shampoo. His hand reaches from behind the curtain to place the bottle on the windowsill on the opened window. Then the lights go out and on in the adjacent room, a figure moves across and slides into a new day. 

Spring has finished blooming, but I've only just begun.

 

Because there has been time. Enough of it that there has been a lunar eclipse... There have been minutes where the white noise began to sound like a song. 
(Creatures, Crissy Van Meter)

I feel like only yesterday the Martenitsi were soaking in the March rain on the branches of a tree in an abundance of pink blossoms. What has surprised me the most is how quickly I develop a routine. Before all this, I ached for a break in the monotony. I felt there were not enough hours in a day to seek out creative outlets. I pushed my personal projects aside and thought reading on the train, noting things down, alone satisfied. It felt as though it happened overnight, everything slowing down, being at home, I marveled at the chance to recollect lost time. Where did the time go?

I open my eyes to the warm smell of a home made cappuccino and sunny-side up eggs on toasted bread. Some mornings the cooing doves are like a sweet nostalgic song. On my excursions, the same man painstakingly paints the fence outside his doorstep at the top of a hill, the same woman pushes a stroller and pulls the leash on a tiny dachshund that has to gallop to keep up, the same rabbit crosses the path, the same man is perched on the stone steps outside his apartment on a conference call, the last time a carton of goldfish crackers and a thermos held his spot. The same little dog in a plaid bow-tie on his collar lies flat on the warm concrete outside his front door, fenced in and bored out of his mind, lifts his head up to look at you as you pass by and collapses again.

I've build my days around cocooning myself at my desk by the window, the clattering of the keyboards, the creaking of the floor and chair that I sometimes mistake for my spine, anticipating the excitement of the kettle whistling, the evening woodpecker interrupted by the screeching neighbor that sounds like he's summoning a demon, watching the black cats in the windows across the street who sit side by side like a mirror image unaware of one another, their dark silhouettes flatten like two dimensional shapes on the windowsill on sunny days. The snowdrops and daffodils have made room for tulips, with their bright red and orange rubbery flowers that open and close with the coming and going of the sun. The violet flowers on the path I like to take have lost their vibrancy and fragrance, and the magnolias have rotten brown on the edges and fallen to the ground. Spring has finished blooming, but I've only just begun.

Fear

From the window at night, the silhouette of a woman in the warm glow of an opened window in a building across the street is sliding a thick hairbrush from the top of her head to the ends of her hair ending just below her breasts. I'm reminded of a semi erotic novel about a young woman who ritualistically brushed her hair one hundred times before bed in efforts to ground herself.

I've had this reoccurring dream for as long as I can remember. I look in the mirror and see my hair is haphazardly cut short. I run my fingers through what is left. I wake up and reach for my tangled hair in devastation and relief.

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