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May day. Mayday. Today is Beltane, the first day of summer in the old calendar. I’ve lit a small bonfire outside to burn the herbs dried over the winter, as new ones have sprung in the garden. They create a smoke screen across the yard, and I briefly worry about the neighbors and their thoughts, then discard them both. My cats watch me through the screen doors, blinking against the strong smell of rosemary and oregano burning. The ribbons curl in the heat. We can jump across it, I tell them, but it’s not necessary. The smoke is our signal.
I just wrapped a baby shower present using a hot glue gun. And recycled gift wrap. I made it into a theme. The gift wrap is from my bridal shower two years ago, but I saved it because it's real leaves on recycled paper. Very beautiful. I don't have scotch tape, and it's really heavy, so the glue gun came out. To make it really earthy, I used garden twine as ribbon and glued the head of one of my fallen tulips.
A man finds a book of matches in a box on his dusty bureau while attempting to clean it off. The Domino Club, New York, NY. The walls of the club were painted like trees, and it had looked like the leaves blew in an unfelt breeze. Until you looked closely and saw they were New York sized cockroaches. Today it would be shut down quickly, but in the late 60s it was par for the course. The waitresses wore tight white and black dresses and sat on your lap for their break. Before health codes and wives took control.
“I can’t believe they are selling my house. I was born there, how could they?”
Paul’s face was taunt in despair as he crushed the beer can in his hand.
“That is such a bummer dude,” Greg consoled him.
The group nodded and frowned in unison, cohesion the best bet in times of trouble. We were fast learners our freshman year.
“It happens though, it will happen to all of us.”
I turned to see who spoke. There were 10 of us in my single, and it was hard to see through the haze of cigarette smoke. Mostly my fault.
But it was my room. Those bothered by it could leave until I was ready to stop.
“Things will change for us all.”
Dan’s voice became clearer to me through the mild beer buzz I was working on. Delicious Dan. I wondered if he was to be the philosophical one of the night, wailing about the possibility of nothingness then getting up and going to the library to study in the morning. Preparing for a future. The nothingness topic of conversations always broke at first light. When the sun is in the sky it was hard to be a nihilist.
Unless it was the winter sun we were currently living under in this northern part of the country.
“That’s true,” I agreed.
Paul’s face contorted into a sneer.
“It’s changing for me now, bro.”
I shuddered. How did I start hanging out with people who said “bro”? I liked having my room as place for people to gather, but this wasn’t a frat house. I shot a look across to Carol and rolled my eyes. “Bro” she mouthed.
Paul was being sensitive, and I wondered what his game was. I knew it was a game. Wasn’t that what college was?
I was his primary target a few weeks ago. He turned it into a buddy scenario afterwards, and was just harmless enough for me to let it slide. I billed him as my conquest. I placed my hand on Paul’s shoulder.
“We’re young, of course everything is changing. You can’t go home again,” I said trying to sound wise. I was in American Literature that semester and had seen Thomas Wolfe on the reading list. I was looking forward to starting it.
Paul’s face hardened as Delicious Dan murmured in agreement.
“Do you even know what that means?” Paul asked.
“Sure, every time you leave a place it changes. You can’t go home again.” I stammered, trying to remember the summary on the back of the book.
“But at least it will be there. My whole town doesn’t even exist anymore.” He swallowed hard.
I realized that this was more than a philosophical discussion.
“It was a farm town off the Ohio River. Last spring the river flooded. Higher than ever before. We had to evacuate quickly. Population 450 to 0 in 16 hours. Everything is gone.”
We sat on the beds, all frozen in dazed comprehension of the situation.
“No way.” Someone said after a few minutes.
“Did everyone make it?” Carol asked tentatively.
“Not everyone. Some older farmers stayed with their animals. It’s not easy to move 1.500 pigs. They stayed and some drowned. A lot more animals died than people.”
“What about when everything dried out?” someone asked.
“Parts didn’t. Our house did, but there was so much damage it was condemned. It’s a partially flooded lot. I guess I don’t have to worry about the new people living there though,” he shot out at Steve, the one who started this train wreck of a conversation.
“We all have our burdens in life, I guess.” Carol spoke quietly. “You just got yours a bit early.”
The room shifted uncomfortably. We were young, and not supposed to be thinking of burdens. We were to drink and be merry. Skip classes and make love. Not think of drowning towns.
“You can’t go home again, but you can make a new home. You know, carry on and stuff.” I was so poetic.
Dan nodded. “This is your home now.”
“If you let it be.” I added.
I knew then it wouldn’t be. Not with me at least.
Pulling at her now too-short curls, Jill sat down at the breakfast table with a huff. She thought a pixie cut would make her feel grown up, professional. Bill scruffed her head and placed an empty cereal bowl and carton of milk in front of her.
I like it, he whispered.
The face on the milk carton stared at Jill. A long haired milk maid with brunette curls tied back over her shoulder. Pointing to it, she turned to Bill wordlessly. If you’re taking style advice from the Luna dairy, you may have made a mistake.
And she grew up.
I crave the most unhealthy things. Salt. Fat. More salt. Over the past year I’ve been pretty good at denying my cravings, and training for marathons has helped this. You don’t want to eat a ton of fat and run 20 miles. It just doesn’t feel good. But now my mileage is down to 5 a week. And usually just 2 days of running. With the lack of exercise the need for disgusting food is back. However, I’m not craving red meat anymore. That was weird anyway. But now I just want a bag of potato chips. And cake. Please?
Midmonth. So far my writing is helter-skelter. A very short story, daily blurbs, dead end trains of thought. I have an outline for a story. It’s the first time I have a fully developed plot and no character. I was trained to develop characters and then see where they go. Most of mine must be actors because they just sit and wait for direction. Or ache to wander into the sunset, free of the narrative. I finally decided on a name for the main character of my plot, but it will probably change. I want her to pick it herself.
I am making pickles for my husband for our second wedding anniversary. It’s not the traditional gift, cotton oddly enough, but I will be planting the traditional flower in the garden. Cosmos. I wasn’t aware that anniversaries had flowers attached, but that is how much I know about this stuff. I only research it when it’s pertinent. The modern tradition is calico, which is odd as I associate that with fabric from Little House on the Prairie books. And homemade aprons. But pickles it is. Maybe I will put a ribbon of calico around the jars when I store them.
I am waiting for the strawberries. To warm up that is. I cannot stand refrigerated fruit. It feels unnatural to me, to have something that has ripened in the warm sun to be served cold. Due to either societal expectations or the every present and always useless FDA guidelines, our fruit is presented to us cold. Which can wreck it. Strawberries shrivel faster in the fridge, and I’ve found they grow mold much easier too. My fridges grows mold easy, unlike my parents’ one. I remember eating food out of it that had been in there for months. Except fruit.
There is a baby sitting in my living room right now. Well, not sitting I guess. Swinging. He’s asleep and I keep looking over at him, wondering if he’ll wake up before his parents get back from a wedding—their first social voyage in nearly three months. He seems like he belongs here, and it’s easy to picture him as ours. It’s a Saturday evening in late spring, and we sit two rooms apart listening to the mechanical motion and small breaths. As the light fuzzes into darkness, the glowing dining room frames him. He’s not ours but he belongs.
Daytime napping is surreal. When the sun is high in the sky the mind processes down time differently. Snippets of dreams hang in fragments clouding your normal thoughts. Instead of lunch at 1 with ham and iced tea, you fly over pumpkin fields in June, and see pioneers picnicking with strawberries and mud. Rolling over on the bed, with double the room that I would have on a Monday morning, I see faces at my window blurred. They can’t be there, of course, two stories up and more. Stretching my toe to the edge, I dive back down into slumber.
Last frost of the year—until October—is expected tonight. I pulled a large plastic sheet over the tender herbs to protect them. It was hard not to pull a few leaves off the young basil to eat with dinner, but they wouldn’t survive yet. I would love to have a large herb garden instead of grass. The grass is nice to look at but only grows where you don’t want it. Ours, in fact, is mostly clover, dandelions, violets and plantain leaves. Weeds. But they grow naturally, and we don’t need harsh chemicals to make them lush. Green, pure.
Today is my wedding anniversary. Two years ago I enjoyed the largest, most extravagant party I’ll ever throw. There is a full day of warm sunshine ahead of me, which irks me. Yes, irks. My wedding day was a blustery day, about 50 degrees, with sprinkling rain. I always hope for good weather for people’s weddings, even if they are indoors. Mine ended up being indoors, which is safer around here. We get massive hail storms in mid-July, and 80 degree days in January. New England. We don’t get enough sun, but sometimes it should fight harder to come out.
Not one single cloud in the sky. The front yard is lit up in late afternoon sun, and I see now why people in our neighborhood sit out on the road in the evening, sipping their hard earned wine after whining children have been sated. The western point of the earth is at the end of our road. In late spring through early fall it sets in a straight line, illuminating the edges of our homes. My front lawn is a carpet of clover, thick grass, fuzzy weeds. But it’s a bed, and not a thicket. I sit, in repose.
Hot breeze blows through the open window, down the wall and across the floor, touching my foot instead of rising into the open room. It’s early. Directionless I gaze out into the courtyard, shutting my eyes against the mounds of papers in front of me. I am lying on a quilt with birds singing around me. I have all afternoon to lounge on the damp grass, cooling my body as the sun rises higher in the sky. Then the phone rings, and I am trapped behind the grass, my mouth full of sour coffee. Imaginative sensations give me slight pause.
Edge of my seat, waiting for the clock to tick. Reminiscent of the final day of school before a vacation. Summer day in spring, teasing our psyches and making us bare all in the bright sun. Reflective skin bouncing with energy and happiness. Work is left undone, piled in neat stacks to be dealt with on Tuesday. My mind is already in my backyard, on the train, out the door. Tingling, my skin itches in anticipation of not being here, in this chair. Freedom is hopeful, even if it’s only temporary. Next week is back to drudgery; the long weekend.
At the garden center today I found chamomile. I was so excited I jumped up and down. I haven’t been able to find it since I lived in Salem, nearly 7 years ago. It is a low growing flower, more of a creeper really, that you can place around stepping stones. When you step on it the scent is released and graces the garden with tranquility. Now, I’m sure lavender would do the same—it’s calming properties are also well known—but the tiny chamomile is willing to be crushed underfoot for our moods. A less delicate method of release.
I love to bake but don’t get to do it often. Otherwise I would be 250 pounds, and glued to my oven. With just me and my husband in the house baked goods would either be eaten or grow moldy. I am making a fresh fruit tart to bring to my friend’s house for lunch. I use heavy whipping cream, pudding mix, and toss the fruit into a sugar syrup before placing it all on a fresh crust. Just as good as anything that comes out of a bakery, and made by my own hands. Each part thought about thoroughly.
First harvest. Today I went into the garden and pulled out a full bowl of spring lettuce and radishes. This time last year I was doing the first planting; the first harvest wouldn’t be for weeks. The second time around I planned and sorted seeds through the winter, ready to take advantage of the first ray of sunlight that hit the frozen ground. Now, near the end of May, I went out into the morning sun and knelt between the rows, tenderly pulling on the roots of the radishes, checking for a plumpness I didn’t know existed in these veggies.
I got a gift certificate in the mail today to Barnes and Nobles from my cousin. I put it in the drawer next to the one I got for Christmas. I’ll use them for gifts around Christmas. While I love books, I stopped buying them. I go to the library every two weeks and take out books and magazines. I love taking out magazines. Save money, and space too when they are returned. My coffee table only has the ones I’m reading. I request books ahead of time, so they have them waiting at the front desk. My literary concierge.
Today I realized I have reached the end of my formal education. I’m not learning anything, and am not passionate about the topics. It’s like I’ve just chosen to continue in the hopes that I could remain an academic forever. But I’m not. Or rather, the venue of academia has changed in the last few years in my head, and I no longer fit. I want more theory and discussion, not instruction on practice. I’m not practicing anything. So I should leave. This endpoint is leaving me broken though. Lost and listless I wonder what it has all been for.
If I were to really sit down and think about my passions, I have a feeling that they would be very much the same as they were 15 years ago, just more refined. No, that’s not true. I have only one true passion, but have added interests to my days. “If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid” well, I’d live that life I want so bad that is being kept from me. That line is by Joyce Kilmer by the way. It’s about doing something you want but cant right now. Or maybe ever.
I think that if I could find a therapist who instead of holding office hours and urged you to sit on a couch and spill your feelings, they took you for a walk. Observe you running your errands through the streets, interacting with strangers, whether or not you smile at your coffee dealer. I think this would be more therapeutic than rattling ones brain in search of an intangible, fleeting emotion. Plus you would get exercise. If I could do my errands and chat and exercise, maybe I would consider therapy. Instead, I will have to rely on this medium.
It’s hard when pressure creeps up on you. One thing breaks, another snaps, run out of milk. One minute you are able to handle anything and the next you are lying under the kitchen table with a six pack of beer praying for the pain in your head to go away. This morning instead of lying on the newly mopped floor I headed out into the garden and hoed it up. I was pretty sure all weeks would wither under my heavy glare and hand. Three hours later, the anger is gone and a reasoning mind is restored to me.
End of May. It’s been a long month. New goals set, determined to stay the course no matter what, tons of jobs scares for me. But I wrote. Not every day, but most. And I’ve started a big project and given myself guidelines and deadlines. Even enlisted a family member who is an excellent editor to help me out. And her kids. Cause that’s my new audience. The last two months really have been busy. I don’t expect June to be any slower. House renovations continue, running must be picked back up, classes go on. I will write it all.
The Tip Jar