July 6, 2012

roots

my best friend lives in texas and I live in oregon, and we have been apart for seven years. but we know each others' hearts, and I think always will. early morning the other day (mid-morning in texas), I sent her a text saying that I was sad. we got talking about the last summer we both lived in syracuse, which for reasons I won't get into here we call 'the lost summer.' we were both struggling with a number of things but despite that, I look back on the summer with a great deal of fondness. all I remember about it, in retrospect, was all the time I spent driving back and forth to her place, along the new york thruway; it was a toll road but only one exit away, and the toll was fifteen cents. we each had the keys to the other's apartment. when she moved in to her place, she was overwhelmed emotionally by a lot of secondary things happening in her life, and she left everything packed and drove the two hours back to her parents' house to get some family love. I took care of her cat in her absence, and in the few days she was gone I unpacked everything, put it into manageable piles, and hung up some pictures. there wasn't anything else I could do for her, but unpacking was easy -- it wasn't my stuff, so it didn't have any baggage. tiger and I sat on the floor, going through books and trinkets and photos. he was such a nice cat. the last morning, I left her a bouquet of flowers on her kitchen counter. I remember it all felt like something so good. it made me really happy. she had done an impossibly good thing for me a few years before, something so profoundly selfless and wonderful that it had made me cry. this was what our friendship was about. is about.

so, we are talking about that summer; I am remembering the night I drove to her house, late, after a rain, and how all the geese on onondaga lake were swimming in a line. and she says to me, while I am still in my bed in oregon, sad, "I was missing you so much at the pool the other day. I was thinking about our lost summer. about when you unpacked my apartment for me and wrote that beautiful poem and left it on my desk. that's still the most amazing expression of true friendship I've ever experienced." her saying this to me is as big and good as the thing I did years ago to earn it. "you taught me how to be a good friend," she says. our friendship spans 13 years. I went to her place once when I had gotten so sad and frantic over my stepfather's brain tumor I had been throwing up all night. she came to my apartment at 2 AM once after she'd had a bad fight with a roommate. we made each other tea. everyone should have such a rock in their storms.

that cat had to be put down last year. he wasn't old but he was sick, and though she knew it was coming, it devastated her. when she texted to say it was over, I sobbed at my desk, two thousand miles away.



There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn't. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don't know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.
marilynn robinson, gilead



on sunday nights, a girlfriend and I have a standing lady date. this is a tradition that's evolved slowly over the last several months, borne out of my lack of cable TV and our combined desire to watch certain shows. lady dates in their current iteration involve a truly obscene amount of cheese, many bottles of wine, the occasional cocktail or glass of champagne (or better, glass of champagne with a popsicle inside, our latest favorite). there is always a full spread of food. I have my own chair. there is something intensely cozy and wonderful about a standing tradition like this, a bit like sunday family dinner. we laugh and gossip and catch up on each other's lives. I feel it has a very real sanctity, which I think we both have come to cherish.



my kid sister texts me random questions. "settle a debate for us: how old is beth?" (beth is a cousin; we grew up together. she's 34.) "how do you spell vetranarian?" (veterinarian.) I write and ask her if she wants to tag along with me when I drive down to north carolina; I ask it knowing that she is desperate to go. "you just made my whole summer!!!!!!" she writes back. she is me at that age, tomboyish and full of bravado, desperately craving her own good stories, afraid adventure is going to pass her by. well, I suppose that's me at this age, too.



I drive down I-5 to visit a good friend, my bike strapped to the back of the car. the sun is brilliant and the windows are down and my hair, damp from a shower, is a happy wreck. we put on our various bike gear and we ride through traffic until we've shaken off town a little, the landscape opening onto hayfields, low mountains in the distance. my bike has just over 200 miles on it, all but 15 of them ridden without the pleasure of anyone else's company. we climb and descend, climb and descend. we want to ride the ferry across the river but we discover, midway through the ride, that it's broken down. we divert. the road we end up on climbs forever. we take a road that's clearly marked DEAD END because I wonder aloud, 'what's at the end of it?' and then obviously we have to know. it's steeply uphill and we think we might die. at the end of it there is just a house, and an old man pruning some fruit trees. as I circle around I forget my foot is clipped into my pedal and I fall over onto the pavement. this is a thing that apparently everybody does sooner or later. my friend does not laugh at me, which makes him a better person than I am. my knee is scraped and a little bloodied, and the old man suggests that I should have stayed down on the pavement longer, for effect.

we don't die and when we get back we sit on the back porch and drink beers. later on my knee swells up a little and turns blue at the edges. a goose egg appears on my elbow. I feel pretty proud about all of this.



cat-sitting for some friends for the weekend. they have a sweet house, four cats, a wonderful backyard. on the side of the house is a bathtub, with hot and cold water hoses nearby. the whole thing is curtained, with lanterns on the outside and a deck built around it. I pick a bowl of raspberries from their yard, let out the two reliable cats, the ones who like me enough to come to me. I mash up watermelon slices from the fridge, squeeze a lime, toss in some vodka, and call it good. the bath is the perfect temperature, there is a breeze, and I am in there for nearly two hours. I think there are few things so splendid as being in warm water with a cool breeze blowing by. the cats stalk invisible prey in the grass. taking care of friends' pets or plants or houses always makes me so happy, like there is this community and I am a part of it. like my life has roots, and I can count each individual one, and they are so precious.

6 comments:

  1. so, you know when you are in the very thickest part of a thick season and leisure and reflection and introspection feel like they are unattainable? this lovely, lovely writing reminded me - at the end of a 16 hour day, in the very middle of a 12-day stretch - that there will be time for bike rides and baths and reconnection. I cannot thank you enough for that.

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  2. You have an incredible gift for taking a single moment, holding it in your hand and giving it meaning. These words felt like a balm to my tired soul after a long day of work in the hot sun.

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  3. what a sweet comment!

    there will be time, I promise! but god, do I know. the truth of it is I am often trying to convince myself about leisure, because even though I'm off work right now, I still get really stressed about a lot of things, not the least of which is whether I'm spending my off time in a way that I won't regret later. (also two nights ago I had a nightmare about our gala concert. that is NOT FAIR).

    hang in there, lady! you'll get through it and then you'll get to eat ice cream and breathe and have a second to feel like a whole person again. it's so hard in those long stretches (and you have the heat to deal with on top of it)! in the late part of our season, seriously, thinking about summer break was often the only thing pulling me through. xoxo.

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  4. girl! if only I had known about your crazy week, I would have come down and done some manual labor with you. I'm coming down there to visit you both and to haul whatever needs hauling or feed whatever needs feeding, or WHATEVER as soon as I'm back from visiting my family! thanks for your sweet words.

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  5. Jess, you are such a wonderful, talented writer. I love this post.

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  6. i knew you would understand! tell you what, you can send your gala anxiety to me and i'll babysit it until you need it back. (read: never) deal? :)

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