Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What You See

Here is my son Henry when he was barely two. He is staring through the fence at the house my great grandfather built in Cadillac Michigan. This house loomed large in my childhood. Although it was sold out of the family for a number of years, my grandfather owned the property next door so we always knew it as the family farmhouse. My cousins and I always had a feeling it was haunted. I think my father thought so, too, but never admitted it officially. He laughed off things like that, though late at night after a few drinks, he would tell a story about the room upstairs where his grandmother had died - a story about himself as a ten-year-old boy running across the field after bringing the cows in - and seeing the white gauzy curtains in that upstairs window, floating out on the balmy summer wind, seemingly beckoning to him. He was so spooked that he accidentally whacked a hornets’ nest with the stick he had been using against the trees to herd the cows. He ran home with his shirt yanked up over his head, and still got stung. Like most of my father’s stories, this one had a humorous punch line, an ending that veered away from the supernatural beginning, the unknown becoming known.

What you don’t see in this picture are the remains of the old barn and silo out back, the cabin where we spent many summer evenings, the battered picnic table, and the rope swing in the tree. What you don’t see is what is coming: the new house we built next door and then sold, the red maple in back we planted when my father died, his ashes that we scattered in the woods behind the field behind this house. You don’t see Henry grown now into a lanky thirteen-year-old California boy who still remembers Michigan even though we haven’t been back in several years. You don’t see Henry’s brother Ethan, who was likely squirming and kicking wildly inside me – seven months pregnant – when I took this picture. But in a sense all of these things were maybe already there waiting to happen, like a sudden gust of warm breeze.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Letter M

Multicolored: Rainbow yarn hair ties I had as a little girl. I loved them because they were so brilliant and daring, the way I wanted to be. My mother preferred plain pale pink, navy blue or white, but I wanted everything multicolored. Last year at my mother’s I found a multicolored bikini from my teenage years in a drawer in my old room.

Mark: The first boy I kissed playing spin-the-bottle in sixth grade. He had dark hair and blue eyes and I was already smitten. When he realized we had to kiss he took a look at me and said “Oh, snap! Braces!” but he still smiled and did it, a good sport.

Mad: The way I feel when my precious - though futile - sense of control feels like it is slipping away. Days when traffic is bad and the homework is not done and I can’t get to my own work and one more person asks me for one more thing and I fear I will snap. On these days I have fantasies of grabbing every dish out of every kitchen cupboard and smashing them all on the floor. I don’t do it, but the mere thought is exhilarating.

Michigan: Place of childhood summers, lakes smelling green, the iridescence of blue damselflies lighting so quickly on my arm as my uncle paddles the canoe. Water fights with my cousins with a garden hose on the brown lawn. Tornado warnings, when the light all around would turn a flat golden yellow, the air preternaturally still. Helping my aunt dry dishes at the sink while she hummed along with the radio. The sad fact that I don’t visit as much as I should since my father died.

Mud: I like the way it feels on my bare feet when I have given myself over to it - cool and smooth and messy. The beauty of childhood mud pies, when I completely believed they could be chocolate or cinnamon, when anything was possible.

Middle aged: What I don’t feel. At all. I feel like I have plenty of time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up because this is still just a warm-up. There is more. Feeling this in spite of having a good job, a great husband, and two children pushing adolescence.

Movies: Escapism. Magic. Going into another world for a time. The reasons I still like going to the theater to see them; the smell of popcorn, sitting in a cool, dark, cavernous room with strangers, sharing the experience, the emotions. Growing up with movies, steeped in them because my father was a film critic. How flipping TV channels on a rainy Saturday afternoon and seeing a familiar classic flick by – in silvery rich black and white - gives me a sense of the familiar, of comfort. I can’t resist sitting down to watch…

More: How wanting more is necessary, and makes me feel alive, awake, moving forward.