my youngest sister answers the phone when I call to talk to my mom. these days, we're always talking about high school, because she is a freshman, encountering many of my old teachers; for the first time in either of our lives, my past and her present very neatly overlap. the old geometry teacher doesn't remember me (which is good; I often slept in my back-row seat). my indoor track coach, of course, does, and delivers the sad but unsurprising news that my old high school record in the 800m relay, hard-won, has been broken. because of my antics in his class, my old french III teacher (one of my favorites) teases her more, which I know she secretly loves.
she asks me if I remember someone three years my junior, and the name doesn't really ring a bell. "he's my indoor track coach now," she says, "and when I asked if he knew who you were, he said, 'of course I remember her.'" I remind her that I was a senior when he was a freshman, and so more easily memorable; I was also one of the best on the team that year. secretly I am a little pleased.
now she is running all the trails I have kept close in my heart for the twelve years I've been gone, though many of them are called by new names: the old barn trail is the barnyard trail now; the barn trail doesn't have a name at all. the ridge trail, though -- forever and always my favorite -- remains the same. I promise her I will show her the quarry trail, which we used to access by climbing the back fence and then crashing through the woods to the river. the trail follows the gunpowder to the base of a hill on a road near our home, and in the latest weeks of spring track we would run there to leap from the bridge into the water.
life has been unspeakably busy, the kind of busy that's so overwhelming you can't even quite look at it. sixteen hours some days have been spent doggedly marking parts, which reached my mailbox much later than they were supposed to from various string principals. my back aches and I have hardly been outside in days, but they're done. I leave for maryland in 36 hours. I haven't slept much, and as usual I've eaten too much candy.
at home there are many people to see. I think the trip will be full of nostalgia, and maybe some sort of quiet awakening. a fissure. in maryland the winter sky is diffuse blue; the leaves crack underfoot in the woods of my backyard. the rope swing is gone, I think, from the ash tree, having finally rotted away. the beloved family dog was put to sleep this summer; her absence, long anticipated, will nevertheless be a soft ache. the chickens will be under the heat lamp. as usual, the family room thermostat will be set at a preposterous 55 degrees. I never bring enough to wear around the house, but thankfully can rely on my sister, who is officially as big as I am. I refuse to let her grow taller.
my brother's voice is suddenly deeper. they are both nearly grown. who may abide it.