Category Archives: memory

It isn’t full circle

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, when I find myself in a chair no one held six years ago when I was falling apart and people asked, “Was I doing okay,” but took it at mostly face value when I said yes, then let me fall apart and drop off the face of the earth, only to slowly scotch tape, duct tape, Krazy glue myself back together with no one’s particular help (no matter how much I did try to ask, too little too late, but still, I did ask and they vowed, marital, Hippocratic, parental, but still, they all failed, when asked they unanswered).

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, that I now sit in the chair that no one held six years ago and tell the truth I did not want to hear.  ”You are not doing okay,” I say, and lay out the hard options, which are take the time off which is some hardship, or take the exit and the door will hit you hard in the ass on the way out, and trust me, that will take longer to recover from.  I don’t say, “I’ve been there,” but I do say that maybe the time off will give them time to straighten things out, and if not, at least give them time to make a more graceful exit.  It’s hard to be kind, but if it’s not kind, it’s true, and it’s a truth no one told me and a tough love I had to learn all by myself (a love for myself I had to learn, too, when the people who owed me nothing didn’t bother to extend me anything, either).

So, no. It isn’t full circle.  It’s miles and loops and six years ahead of myself. And fuck yes, it’s hard, because I want to cry with them, too, and cry for myself, for who I was then and still always will be, just a bit, always a little raggedy-broken unevenly stuck to myself in places it hurts to detach myself from to sit in a different chair than where I ever expected to be— but that is the joy and the pain of learning and growing and doing something for others that no one bothered to do for you.

It isn’t full circle, it’s a line, and it’s a line going forward. That’s better.

Snow more

We are at record snow levels in Boston; the last time there was this much snow in a month,  much less a winter, I was barely aged 4.  There are pictures (square, faded, and now I would have to crop and choose a phone filter to get that effect) of the snow piled roof-high against the garage.  I remember the snow slide, the kids on this block climbing up the side of the snow pile while kindergarten was cancelled to slip, down, down again.  It was two weeks of snow down snow pants and up jackets and inside mittens, and then running down the block to get sleds, the six-foot plus piles of snow on sidewalks piled like tunnels, way over our heads.

It felt cold and free then, and you could go in the house to get warm when it got (rarely) too much.  Who’d ever have known that now we’d have WiFi, and there’d be no such thing as an adult snow day anymore– just breaks to go shovel snow and uncreak your back from sitting at your laptop by wearing it out hurling snow into claustrophobic sidewalk tunnels that close in your car, cold and too much.

There’s another 15 inches predicted this weekend, and all I can think is I’m glad I already have the holiday off; I can space the shoveling out.

Wild and precious

It’s not summer yet– we’re barely broken from winter
but the days are starting to hold that verge of wet
of mud, of emergent green, and the breeze may still bite down to the bone
but the sun is just that smidge brighter, the light a little more gold.
It’s enough of a promise to make the tangle of brush littered under the
thornhedge, the long brambles themselves in dire need hacking
a challenge, not something so daunting to send me back under cold covers.
The just now full moon is low in the still twilight sky–
not day, not night,
but that inbetween state when everything waits,
everything’s poised.

I am finally ready to leap even though last week, or was it last night,
I was ready to fall, or was it to crash?
Still, each day is different, I’m learning,
and today I heard a poet reading her verse about whelks.
I remembered that time toward the end
when we took a walk and collected our own– beautiful, broken,
all hollowed out.  I left them in the bowl your brother’s wife gave us when I left,
along with so much else of our life.  In abandoning most of our things,
it wasn’t so much a clean break as the fact that you can’t take it with you,
and it’ll just break your heart if you try.
Those whelks, though– it’s strange, the things your memory holds on to.
I know there were good times enough to make me stay so long,
not just my own fear or yours that kept me hanging around,
but all those times are blurred versus those last few trips
all tinged with the last light of summer, that and the things
that still make me burn with rage.
In hindsight, I should have leapt in the spring, but I’d hoped
you would be able to make the leap with me, to try to hold on,
so I won’t fault myself for trying.  Someone had to.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
You, unable to help yourself, much less me, and me,
asking for help you couldn’t admit I was always going to need?
It wasn’t so simple a matter as clearing out the winter’s detritus
or waiting for spring.   It wasn’t as clean as admitting
that things had changed, like the way sand and tide
whittled those whelks.
I still don’t know what a partnership is,
but I do know to walk away
from those who cannot choose joy simply
because they will lose it some day– that knowing, at least
is a prayer that I be my own best companion.

People and things are evanescent, it’s true.
I don’t know what you were expecting
in a world where we’re all born to die.
It is all wild and precious and, for the moment,
part of our life.  I know how to pay attention to that,
even if the attention is caressing the brittle shells of late winter,
rather than admiring the slime trail the snail leaves in June.
The snail doesn’t know how long he is here.
He just takes his time, and enjoys each blade of grass
during his slow, messy, mucous progress.
Perhaps that’s the first kind of prayer, the steady snail crawl.
Slow, onward, with your home on your back.

(With apologies to Mary Oliver & The Summer Day)

Heck on wheels, hell of a ride

My first driver’s license picture was awesome.  I’m still sad I had to turn it in for the renewal, because really?  I was having not just fantastic hair but fantastic everything the day I passed my first driver’s test.

My current picture isn’t so bad.  I look a bit gaunt in the way that ladies’ faces thin out as one crests 35 and heads toward 40;  I’m also a little squint-eyed, since for whatever reason they make you take off your glasses– crazy, if you ask me, since my license is, in fact, vision-restricted.  Compared with my passport, though, where I look like a hungover Yertle the Turtle?  I’m not going to complain.

Driving has always been a mixed thing to me; when I didn’t have a car, I used the T and while I cursed the inconvenience at times, I was never unaware of the luxury of living in Boston and/or a state where it was, in fact, possible to get from one place to another without a car, even if it was a little harder in some parts than others.  I know that isn’t the case everywhere, and that cars really are freedom (and the lack of cars are a trap).  I enjoyed cruising with friends in high school, music loud and rolling slow with the windows down at the beach, wasting gas all summer long and checking out cuties no one had the metaphorical balls to get out of the car to talk to.  I’m not a huge gearhead– I appreciate a good-looking car, but I’d never waste the money on one.  (I saw the new Subaru sportscar recently and admired its looks, but mostly I thought– I bet that gets awesome traction.)  At the end of the day, I always come back to the station wagon, because if you’re going to pack up and go, you’ve got to have room for a bookcase.

I think that’s as good a criteria for choosing a car as some other.

Cars can be a trap, though– if you’re stuck with someone who’s a terrible driver, or critiques every damned thing you do, it’s a nightmare, and bad traffic, year after year on a commute, can wear down even the most patient of souls.  Certainly, I was glad to no longer be doing three state circuits when I gave up practicing law; conducting business by phone and dictating reports while driving in order to keep up with the billable hours took away the pleasure of– watching the scenery, listening to a book, even doing a continuing ed course because if you were going to drive five hours, you might as well learn, amiright?  And then, again, recently, I was glad to no longer be hauling across the worst of downtown Boston’s traffic, though of course probably part of the dread of that drive came from hating my job toward the end.

Still, though– it’s great to be able to get up and go, to drive by yourself, to find a windy, curved road at night and play Foo Fighters (as a for instance) too loudly (I make no secret about the fact that my inner driver is an 18 year old boy who’s kind of a jerk) while the cool late summer air comes in through the lowered windows and you feel the pedals and the wheel like they’re part of your limbs, each dip and curve and surge of the road like you and the engine are running, together.  It’s an escape, a solitude, a private space when you lack others– lord knows I spent almost a year sobbing to and from work while my marriage dissolved and I tried to decided what the fuck I should do.  I probably had more realizations during late-night drive home and pre-dawn pulls out of the driveway, just because it was an hour, alone to myself, where I could think whatever I wanted.  Pre-dawn, as the sky changes color, is a thought-provoking time in the car, I have found.  I listened to a lot of albums that I needed to hear to tell me how to feel, because I was numb and not ready to accept all the decisions I was going to have to make, and that (outdated) in-dash CD system and great set of speakers surrounded me with lyrics that told me what I’d need to get ready to do.

When I started driving, I was more shy; I definitely have evolved into the person who does pull over this car, but who honks her horn less and doesn’t scream with road rage.  I don’t deal in threats anymore, I just do– pull right over.  You don’t like how I drive?  You can either drive, get out and find your own goddamned way, or shut the hell up.  I’m not going to take critiques of my competence (yes, projection much?) when you’re (universal) refusing to take up responsibility for doing it “better.”

The fact is, I think I’m a pretty good driver.  I know how to park, so much so that I have gotten applause from truck drivers and cops.  I know the back streets of Boston.  I have only once lost my car at the mall, and I blame blood sugar and walking pneumonia.  My car is equipped with a shawl, a fleece, an emergency kit (SO many people don’t have jumper cables), extra shoes & socks, mittens & a hat (also flashlights, toolkits, matches, swiss army knives, and more fast food napkins than you can shake a mood swing at).  I have a bag full of maps and print out directions well in advance of any one trip because yes, I’ve had GPS, but at the end of the day– I’ve evolved into the person who knows it’s probably best if I figure out my own way there, rather than wait for some omniscient shiny voice to tell me.  Reception is patchy, you know.

I don’t drive as much since this most recent job transfer as before– I use it on weekends, for errands, for pleasure jaunts to meet up with friends or when I’m driving with my Dad, since I do know how to drive a stick but his inherent paranoia and distrust make it impossible to suggest that we maybe drive his.  (Really, my car’s more comfortable, anyway, and I’m a better, faster driver.)

I’ve had one serious accident, where I fell asleep at the wheel and snapped the suspension; I was ok, the car, not so much.  I was 18.  Since then, I’ve had one rear-ender maybe ten years ago where the guy in front of me stopped short on an entry ramp to the highway, and one side-swipe three/four years ago where the other driver pulled an illegal turn and ripped my front bumper off.

A month ago, a distracted, lost driver changed his mind about where to go in a big intersection in town and decided that turning left into the side of my car was really what he should do.  It wasn’t a big deal, in that everybody was fine, his car was bigger than mine (SUVs, man) and my car could be driven, but one of my doors was dinged all to heck and was going to have to get fixed or it’d rust and get worse.  Considering that my faithful gold steed had 144,000 miles, rust is a potential concern.  They assessed fault, made an offer, and I dithered about it.  This past Friday, I got into an accident where the car two cars ahead of us stopped short.  It was the usual chain reaction; I didn’t hit my brakes soon enough and hit the back of the car in front of me– too fast to brake hard enough, and my foot slipped off the brake.  My radiator, hood, and front bumper all crunched– good, safe car design, my airbag didn’t even deploy, and the car actually drove the half mile home, radiator alarm blaring the whole way, so, 10/10, would buy the car again– but that– that was it.  Everyone was fine (well, who knows about the first car, that shithead took off) but not my poor car.

I got super-lucky.  The insurance company still honored the offer I hadn’t accepted, and the salvage company came and picked it up today.  I’m going to have to save a little more cash to buy a decent used car, but– they didn’t screw around with the value, and for the age of the car and the relative cosmetic damage before this most recent accident, it was a more than fair deal.

I take the T to work.  I can take the T to run most of my errands.  I can move pharmacies to the one next to work.  I can get a serious discount on a Zipcar membership through work if I need to just get away.  I should ride my bike more, get panniers, too, use that and just shop more frequently for food & the like.  If it fits on the bike, then I’m good.

I’ll be buying another car, nevertheless.

This morning, I was putting the keys in the empty car, stripped of plates and personal effects, and I didn’t want to close the door on– all of it.  My first new car, that I paid for with adult job wages, that I bought and used to adult, marriage & family trips, that I used to get myself out of bad situations and which was a haven on wheels even more than it was a stifling tin can.  But all things must come to an end– and sometimes they end with a bang, not a sideswipe.  I have learned to be zen about the fact that things change, that we can’t control everything, and that crap just happens sometimes, even when it’s not wholly your fault.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss my stupid 2003 Mojave Beige VW Jetta Wagon with traction control, heated seats, alloy wheels and sunroof.

At least it happened head-on.  Somehow it makes the transition not quite so bad.  I knew I wouldn’t have that car forever, and it’s not like I named it, or expected it to last 300,000 miles.  Still, though– it wasn’t a heck of a lot of warning, but in those last three seconds, at least I saw it coming.

We’ll see where the road leads next, I suppose.

Driving point

I’ve been driving to work since 2001.

With the exception of a short period in 2009-2010, I have spent twelve years putting 200,000+ miles on two separate cars, driving to Boston and Worcester and Stamford and Providence and hither and yon, north and south shores, all the points of the compass on errands for work.

Last Thursday, I started taking the bus and train once again.

I grew up taking the bus; my mother, for various reasons, did not have a car, so we learned how to use public transportation early & often.  Living in and around Boston, we had the relative luxury of being able to do that.  The bus is, quite often, a pain in the ass; it runs too fast or slow, too cramped, too hot, too cold.  Someone’s having some inane conversation with some pal of theirs they’ve been commuting with for 96 years, or some teenager’s shrieking, or some other person is yakking away on their phone because the concept of enacting private conduct in private space has eroded, and everyone else out in public must be subjected to others’ private confessions.  Waiting in the rain is a pain on the plain in Spain and you’re tied to a schedule that the bus and train drivers may not always honor, or which may just be flat out broken, in which case you’ve got to find your own way.  Still.  

You’re tied to a schedule, and you’re surrounded by strangers with whom you can choose/not to engage.  Which means that for the first time in twelve years, I’m giving myself permission to get to work a little early, have a coffee and a small breakfast nearby all to myself, that I not only have permission to but often need to leave work on time and must leave what’s undone to come back to the next day.  I get to spend forty-five minutes to an hour in either direction in the concentrated drowning-out of other people and their distractions to focus on the stack of magazines in a pile on my floor, in terrabytes of books/book samples/magazine subscriptions/manuscripts/half-started text posts/stored feed downloads & podcasts cluttering my Nook– or in people-watching, when I’m truly tired and just want to zone out.  I can really zone out.  I don’t have to drive.  I don’t have to stop and buy $35.00 of gas (down from $80.00 at my last job) a week– just $20 of t-pass, and yes, I’m reevaluating how much I carry for auto insurance if I’m only driving the thing a handful of hours out of the week.  I don’t have to pay attention to traffic, even if I do, on occasion, miss the rainbows that happen during the rainy drives home.  I’ve actually finished two books I’ve been working on for over a year and start a new one.  I’ve gotten through three whole magazines– I’d forgotten that I’ve always been able to read really fast, when I can put my attention to it.  I’m re-acquiring the art of the longer-form read– not the burst of the blog post between interruptions on my “lunch” break at work, but a chapter or two, maybe more.

It’s been putting my brain in a different place, and I like it.  It’s also made me realize that in the course of the commute, I’ve acquired something I don’t have at home– private, dedicated time all to myself, uninterrupted by others.  Once I am home, I’m making supper, dealing with my dad and his accounts of his day and his occasionally frustratingly ADD/hearing deficient attempts at conversation/interruption– and then it’s time for bed and my father always has something he wants to poke his head in to ask, like when I’m working because, you know, the schedule’s only right on the fridge.  It’s made me mindful that as important as it is to get together with friends (which I’m doing again, or trying to get started again) and as important as it is not to be a selfish wretch to my dad, I can and should schedule non-commuting related me time.  Why am I not taking myself out to the movies or to a show?  Dinner’ll be cheaper, and I’ll get to laugh as hard as I want.

The point of driving is to get from point A to point B.  The point of not driving is AbetweenB.

A little in-between time seems a good thing.

I bet you can’t even tell me that much…

There was a night, years ago now, two-thirty in the morning or thereabouts, when I felt the darkest I’ve felt.  I reached out and was told in effect that my sadness and wanting death weren’t true, that my loneliness and feelings of being abandoned were wrong.

I still don’t know how I got through that night by myself, because I certainly got no fucking help from the person who was supposed to love and to cherish, for better and worse. Whatever his reasons for his reactions, the fact still remained: he told me I didn’t need the hospital and I let him tell me, rather than listen to what was in my own head, which was– you are not loved, you should end this right now (you should go to the hospital.)  I was right.  I wasn’t loved.  And I should have ended it sooner.  (Just not the way I thought.)

A yearsome later, I left, because fuck anyone telling me that my need to take all the pills in my medicine chest because I didn’t feel loved wasn’t real, wasn’t deserving of immediate fucking attention.  And fuck anyone who told me my feelings were wrong because they didn’t have those particular feelings.  Because of course everyone’s psychic, and entitled to tell other people what it is they’re supposed to think, supposed to feel.  Instead of maybe– listening.  Shocking concept, I know.

It’s two years plus, now, and I’ve had ups and downs, better and worse parts, but none quite so bad, and the answer to the question of why should I stay if I’m going to have to be the only one taking care of me, anyway is again– no, fuck you, I’ll do it myself, and I have.  The answer to do I honor my feelings, no matter what someone else says is Yes.  I may even have it tattooed.

It’s two years plus, now, and one of the people who work for me in a job I probably would have been told I wasn’t up to handling (my feelings might get in the way, didn’t I recall I’d flunked out of law practice and why, oh why, hadn’t I told him (btw, CRAZY at the time, it gets in the way, skip the reading, much, did you?)) had a breakdown of their own at work.  I handled it, and I handled it well.  I let them have as much agency as they could.  I listened.  We hung out in more privacy than I thought the workplace would have afforded until the people they’d chosen and asked for came to help them. I didn’t do the thing that was panicked and shove them in an ER, which probably no one would have done– but still, better than letting them go home, on their own, and even moreso, no one knew my history, they just knew I’d know what to do. Because I am competent. And I do know what to do– in general, all-purpose ways. I am a sensible, well-trusted person.

Those asked-for people came to help them, after I’d called and explained.  They’re going to be fine, to come back to work soon, and the family– oh, they’re pleased and surprised that we’re able to be so commonsense about it.  Because yes.  Crazy happens.  So does everything else in this life.  We accept that and make room, because we all have to live and work with each other, and for the bits of crazy, the other things we bring to the day far outweigh the occasional break.

It’s two years plus, now, and it feels raw like that dark night again because I can do it all by myself, but I shouldn’t have had to, and fuck you.  That hurts.  It hurts that I still feel like my crazy wasn’t worth it to you, that it was too scary and you were too selfish to ever bother to learn what it felt like in anyone’s head but your own.  It hurts that you didn’t trust me or you enough to listen to what I had to say.  And that you didn’t trust either of us to believe that you could ever be wrong.  It hurts that sometime in the year after I left, you told me that a friend had a breakdown– and you’d been the one to take them to the E.R. until they could be seen, so they weren’t alone.  I don’t know if that was supposed to be proof that you’d learned– to me, it feels like proof that you could only muster that energy when it wasn’t someone you needed to make your decisions for you– and when I became incapable, so did you.

It’s two years plus, now, and though that night I kept reaching for you, now– I’d shove you away as fast as I can, because I did the right thing walking away, I did the right thing in shoving through on my own, I did the right thing in helping my charge– and you.  You don’t know, and you’ll never be able to tell.  It’s not that you didn’t love me, or that I didn’t love you– but it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t right, and if I should have done more?  So should you.

The great ones

You look great.
I know what that means.
With rare exception,
great is polite for wow, 
you’re not fat anymore.
I don’t pretend to believe
that it really means great,
sexy, pretty.  Desired by the beholder.
There are other ways to say that,
unaccompanied by that particular tone,

(If it were true, someone
would have already said it.
I might even believe it.)

The strictures of being polite
dictate no questions– no asking:
how did I do it,
what’s my secret–
none of that stuff that’s the lifeblood
of supermarket tabloids.
And the surprise is so great,
great, there’s that word again,
another word meaning large,
that few think to ask–
something so drastic,
different from the great assumed
by the knee-jerk.  The radical ones,
they might ask, wow, are you okay?
(One of them did.  It still makes me cry.)

I’m not great,
I suppose I would say
to anyone who would either
dare to be rude (I would rather
that, frankly, than white lies
that smell like bullshit).
I suppose I would say no,
in a small voice
that is not as small
as exclamations about how great I look
make me feel.

I know how I look now,
(more or) less.
I’m only eye-catching
when I haven’t been seen,
not in a while.
And isn’t that the whole story,
whether or not I’ve been seen?
Seen myself, let myself be?
I’d rather not look.
If I fit my clothes,
make it up stairs,
can carry my baggage
wherever I go,
then whether or not I
mind the reflection
matters even less than what
you, oh great ones,
think about whether
you’ll have what I’m having.

(Crushing depressions are not the
recommended treatment for becoming slender.)