Friday, February 28, 2014

5th Wheel

They were all excited to see me, particularly Hada. I heard her yell, “Deb!” from the kitchen before running down the hall to hug me, her three-year-old mouth open wide. It made me so happy I laughed, throwing back my head as I lifted her off the ground. Kathryn hugged me next, then Chad, then Kathryn's dad. Kathryn’s mom offered me Jeremiah, the smaller of the six-month-old twins and I held his head in one hand, his diaper plush butt in the other, blowing raspberries on his tummy as he giggled gutturally. I took selfies of Jeremiah, Hada and me while Kathryn breastfed Silas, the barrel chested introvert twin with the high pitched squeal. We talked about men's body types in the 60’s, how Silas was shaped like a young Marlon Brando, and Kathryn repeated how glad she was I was there.
At first, it was just parents, children, grandparents, and me, until the first couple arrived. And then another couple with their three kids, and another with their four. We were gathering at Chad and Kathryn’s to read through a version of The Christmas Carol shortened and divided into sections meant to be read aloud at parties, a yearly tradition in Kathryn's family. I had never read the novel was surprised by Dickens quick wit, by the accuracy of my favorite Christmas movie, A Muppet Christmas Carol and by my excitement to show off my best Miss Piggy impression.  I was equally surprised when, a few minutes before the reading began, a single man without a wedding ring, a member of Chad and Kathryn’s church, joined the party. As the story began he held the smallest of the toddlers with an ease that made my heart ache. I wondered if he had children, or wanted them, and would he have them with me? These thoughts were so sudden and terrifying I couldn't speak to him for the rest of the evening.
Three months earlier I had become convinced my dear friend Crissy was setting me up with someone. In October she sent me an email that read, "Have you ever seen a movie called The Room? It is hilarious and amazing. I am thinking of hosting a small viewing party and I think you would LOVE it. What do you say?” I agreed immediately, knowing that anything done with Crissy, her husband Merrick, and her married roommates Bill and Heidi tended to include excess amounts of alcohol, easy discussion of taboo topics, and laughing until I almost peed myself. We went back and forth about dates, and I had the inkling this evening was somehow being planned around my schedule. The day of the get-together I texted Crissy, asking her if we were still on and if I knew any of the other guests. She responded, "A few people are coming around 7 for nibbles, and then movie viewing around 8 or 8:30. And I don’t think so, but you will enjoy them for sure!” Her limited details were, in my mind, purposefully withholding. Of course, she didn’t want me to be nervous. Of course, she didn’t want this to be a big deal. Of course she wanted me to feel natural. I arrived 30 minutes late and was still the first person there. Soon after one of Crissy's coworkers and her French husband showed up. And then another couple, coworkers of Merricks. After a third couple ascended the stairs to the apartment Crissy declared everyone present; time to start the film. I read these emails and texts now as completely normal, as simple communications from one friend to another, but there, at yet another party composed of couples, I felt in her vagueness only pity. We went on to have an incredibly fun night. I (as predicted) laughed until I peed, and Crissy kept telling me how glad she was I had come. A part of me knew she meant it only as I am glad you came, only as I love you, but another part of me couldn't help seeing myself as they all must have seen me: Deb at parties, Deb driving home, Deb in bed, Deb out in the world, alone.
After we finished the reading I wrestled with Simeon, a wild, earthy six-year-old and chatted with Micah, Simeon’s eight-year-old big sister, who told me about her recent birthday party. I taught them how to balance on my hands like Olympic Rings, and they would try, eventually falling forward into my arms where I would get a brief smell of their hair, sweet and dirty. At one point Simeon chewed tortilla chips open-mouthed right in my face, his nose touching mine, while I held his body close to my chest which was so full of love I thought it would burst. After most of the other couples and children had left, Hada and I built cities with old wooden blocks (every structure was the door to a church or a hospital) while Kathryn and Chad talked with Heather and Scott, also friends of mine and the remaining (currently childless) couple. Hada eventually went to bed and Kathryn brought one of the twins downstairs to eat. When he was done, Kathyn gave him to Heather, who held him close to her chest while he stared ahead sleepily. I crossed my arms in front of my chest, holding myself.
Earlier in the evening while driving to Jamaica Plain, I had thought my throat was closing. That morning the hives spotting the backs of my hands and knees, my calves and shins, had still not gone away despite taking two Zyrtec the previous night. Before crawling into bed that night I had spent 30 minutes staring at my calendar thinking about the splinter in my foot that took me and my roommate a half hour to extract, the lidocaine injected into my mouth so the cavities could be filled, the mushrooms on the pizza, the two consecutive nights in the homes of cat owners, wondering what could’ve caused such a reaction. The backs of my knees had started itching two nights ago after the first cat interaction. That must be it, I thought, trying to let it be. But the hives never sank back into my skin, and in the car, I became convinced my throat was shutting itself, and that I would soon lose consciousness, crash my best friend's car, and die. I felt an expanding sphere at the back of my throat. I will ask Kathryn for a Benadryl when I get there, I said out loud. I gratefully parked the car, climbed out, locked it. And when I opened the front door forgot my throat in Hada’s excitement.
They were discussing legalistic Christians who don’t believe in drinking, notably both Scott and Chad’s respective mothers. The topic changed from one thing to another, and someone (me probably) made a sex joke, which, as they tend to, turned into a series of sex jokes. I looked around me, everyone's face tired and alight and realized suddenly these were all people who had sex, frequently, with their spouse, with the person seated so close to them. These were not just jokes but realities: they held and touched each other at night and in the early mornings, a human beacon, helping the other keep bearings, having or trying to have children a solid reality, infertility a fear long past for one, long future for the other.
As it neared 11:30 Heather said "I need to get him home," referring of course to her husband, not to the baby she had been holding for the past hour. I had watched her hold him wondering what she thought of his little chubby body, wondering if she would turn to Scott, a question in her eyes to which she already knew the answer: not tomorrow but someday. God willing.

We all left soon after, hugging in our puffy coats, wishing each other Happy Holidays. I got in the car, backed out of the driveway and started down Centre Street. I brought a hand to my blissfully open throat and a small sob escaped, a quiet moan. As I stopped at a red light I hoped the other drivers couldn’t see me cry and if they could, hoped they would pray I wouldn’t die alone in a borrowed car.

Friday, February 7, 2014

This is a Memoir: Finale

The Last One

**I tried to write this one more like a monologue, hoping it would reflect how I actually talk. Sorry it took me 6 weeks to post it! xx**

I’ve lately become obsessed with the immensity of time and space. Like that billions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth, these enormous things, with their tiny ass brains and huge ass bodies. It must have taken forever for them to run away from predators, because by the time their tiny ass brains knew they were in danger it had to then send a message like miles to their legs to move. Good thing they probably just stomped all the danger away. Until that asteroid. And what about that asteroid? Apparently it was the size of Manhattan. An asteroid the size of a huge metropolis hurtling towards earth and then wiping out all life above ground.

It’s unbelievable, like in a palpably exciting way. Like in a everything in the world is a miracle way. Like in a grateful, wondrous way. Were there dinosaurs in Cambridge? Maybe. Except the layout of the continents didn’t looks then like they do now. Because we are moving slowly across the water even while the earth is spinning, pretty quickly I think. I don’t know how fast (or slow), but we’re moving, even when we feel still. Sometimes when I am meditating I become convinced I can feel it, can feel my body rooted to the gravity of the earth’s core, can feel myself spinning slow or fast, below or above some abyss.  

How is it the earth was created? How is it the earth exists at all in the immensity of space? Inside the hugeness of this universe, and the universe that holds that and out and out and out? The big bang had to have been a miraculous happening. That from nothing some atoms collided (or whatever science-y thing you want to say happened), and then over the course of years and years and almost an eternity of years somehow we came to be--humans with our ability to actually contemplate our own existence. It just... affects me.

I saw the first Lord of the Ring’s movie in the theatre six times. That’s 18 hours of my lifespent inside the Krikorian Theatre in Redlands, California watching Frodo decide whether or not to that take that stupid ring to Mordor. And each time I saw it I would come home wrecked. The slow motion scene right after they escaped the mines of Moria, after Gandalf falls into that abyss and we all think he’s died, when Aragorn and the little hobbits are all mourning, their little curly faces contorted--that would undo me. My brother Mark had died that summer, so those faces seemed pretty familiar. And then Frodo would stand at the edge of that river, holding the ring in his hand and hear Gandalf in that boss voiceover, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And you can see in his face, this decision he makes to live. I mean Elijah Wood is not the best actor, right, but somewhere inside him, inside this character, he finds some purpose, like some great calling that he is compelled to respond to. And then he pushes himself off in that boat, because he knows what he’s supposed to do.

And I was all, “What am I supposed to do?” I was 19 and I had no idea that this was how death would feel, that it would be this weight, this press to do, to love, to act, that you just don’t have the wherewithal to respond to. I wanted to be little Frodo standing on the edge of something concrete. Where he was going was so clear. And I couldn’t even figure out where I was to begin with.

A year after Mark died, I was a counselor at a girl scout summer camp in Julian, California. Julian is this sleepy ass town with a “main drag” consisting of five blocks of mom and pop shops (including a bakery that sells the best apple pie I’ve ever had). We were instructed to leave our cars unlocked with the keys in the front seat in the camp’s various parking lots, and we did, because who was gonna steal them? My job was eight weeks of transporting different groups of girls to and from crafting, hiking, making ice cream, and singing (or more accurately yelling) songs after lunch at the singing tree, among other awesome camp-related activities. During one of tne of the sessions we slept outside on cots. The girls slept in a grove of pine trees and the counselors slept in a clearing underneath the whole wide sky. It was like sleeping in a planetarium, only more incredible because it was like we were inside a breath, inside this infinite, sparkling, vast, unknowable thing. And I like to imagine I poured my grief into the sky, my grief and fear of my own death, of my parent’s death, of the death of everyone I would ever love, and it was like how I would yell at my mom about how she fucked up my body image, and her letting me be so mad, it made it better--this is what the sky did. It absorbed, it broke up, it redistributed. It released grief to the wind like Mark’s ashes. I call this God again now. I call this Him, for lack of a better pronoun. This the sky, this the leaves, this this class, and you all. But on that night and under those stars, I called it just Space.

I didn’t know it then, but I am a pinprick on this earth. The human life, all of it, from before Oetsi and on, is a short episode in the life of this incredibly extensive universe. And yet somehow here we are, contemplating from where we came, learning how to wonder. We are exploring our becomings, we are humbled by our biology. I think what I’ve figured over these past 13 years is finally what I’m moving towards, standing on the edge of my own insignificant river. I am moving towards this: how lucky are we to exist, here, now, anytime. What an undeserved gift is life, no less a miracle than that dinosaurs roamed the earth, or that the universe, God, I would say, is huge and unending, and I am a speck of dust.