Finishing up “UNTAMED” by Glennon Doyle this week.
Wanted to share my favorite passage as we creep up on a full year of so much sadness and dying.
The scary part of dying isn’t the dying itself…it’s the question it brings, and I find myself plagued by that question a lot lately as we lose so many humans.
This passage brings me so much comfort that I might just have it printed and folded up in my jewelry box for safe keeping and frequent reminder.
Now it will be here, too:
Tish has always understood metaphors best. (That thing you feel but can’t see, baby is like that thing you can see.)
…I told her that maybe when we were born, we were poured from our source into these tiny body buckets. When we die, we’ll be emptied back out and return to that big source and to each other. Maybe dying is just returning—back out from these tiny containers to where we belong. Maybe then all the achy separation we feel down here will disappear, because we’ll be mixed together again. No difference between you and me. No more buckets, no more skin…all sea.
“But for now,” I told her, “you are a bucket of sea. That’s why you feel so big and so small.”
Our Father who art in heaven Stay there And we’ll stay here on earth Which is sometimes so pretty With its mysteries of New York And its mysteries of Paris At least as good as that of the Trinity With its little canal at Ourcq Its great wall of China Its river at Morlaix Its candy canes With its Pacific Ocean And its two basins in the Tuileries With its good children and bad people With all the wonders of the world Which are here Simply on the earth Offered to everyone Strewn about Wondering at the wonder of themselves And daring not avow it As a naked pretty girl dares not show herself With the world’s outrageous misfortunes Which are legion With legionaries With torturers With the masters of this world The masters with their priests their traitors and their troops With the seasons With the years With the pretty girls and with the old bastards With the straw of misery rotting in the steel of cannons.
wish I could say I’ve always known this poem and didn’t just learn it from HBO’s The Sopranos. But alas…
I’m a young adult cancer survivor. It’s a label I’m proud of, but obviously a club I never would have willingly joined.
Diagnosed with cancer three months before my eighteenth birthday, it’s safe to say I was not quite a grown-a$s woman yet. So there were a lot of things I said and did…a lot of ways I responded to my diagnosis that I’d like to think I’d handle differently now that I’m almost…(gulp, inhale, exhale)…thirty years old.
Back then I was hormonal, and angsty, and ALREADY mad at the world. Add a cancer diagnosis on top of all that adolescent aggression and you’ve got a recipe for a big-ole, bald-headed s**tshow.
I recovered…nicely…from Ewing’s Sarcoma, I suppose. Some kidney damage here, a little infertility there. But I learned over the years what triggers me and how to maneuver myself through the bouts of depression and anxiety that occasionally pepper my survivorship.
I do not, however, do well with the prospect of having to face another cancer diagnosis. Through my twenties, it seemed like it would take a pretty drastic twist of the ole “magic wand” for me to get cancer again once I was clear of the usual relapse timeline. “Lightnin’ don’t strike the same tree twice” was my creed of choice and I felt so normal with each passing year that it became easier and easier to blot cancer fear out.
So in the spring of 2019, when my mom tested positive for one of the breast cancer genes, I was…how you say…shooketh.
Thinking I still had at LEAST a few years until my first mammogram, imagine my delight when, at my next check-up, my oncologist said that in order to be smart with the information we have, it was probably time to start mammograms and breast ultrasounds.
I don’t need to tell you that I was scared and angry and resentful.
I also don’t need to tell you that after the scared and angry and resentful phase, I eventually got my s**t together and scheduled the tests. No matter how many times I shouted “it’s my body, and I don’t have to do everything they say,” I knew I’d never be able to live with the idea that I might get cancer somewhere along the line that could’ve been caught much earlier if I’d been more cautious.
My mammogram was quick and easy and, thankfully, unremarkable.
Yesterday, I had my ultrasound and was anticipating a similar level of ease and simplicity. So when the ultrasound technician pointed at the screen and said, “see this? This is what we call a fibroadenoma,” I thought I was going to literally poop on the table.
She explained that fibroadenomas were common in your twenties and thirties, and that they were benign.
“This one here is just a bit darker than the rest, so let me see how he wants to proceed…”
She had eased my worry and then slapped me in the face again with it in the same breath.
I was left on the table while she consulted the radiologist, and for the first time in eleven years, I really, truly considered what it might look like to have cancer again.
If they say you need a biopsy, are you going to fling yourself to the floor and perform a Shakespeare tragedy in this exam room?
If this turns out to be cancerous…
How’s it gonna be?”
In those twelve brief minutes, there were many deep breaths. There were closed eyes. There were speedy heartbeats.
And there were three clear conclusions:
Nothing about my everyday life would change until it had to.
In my first bout with cancer, as soon as I was diagnosed as a sick person, I IDENTIFIED as a sick person. I EMBODIED a sick person. I immediately got into bed or burrowed into the couch. And I wasted no time victimizing myself.
I lived like I was dying in a bad way.
This time, there would be no “sick-person-syndrome” until the results of all biopsies and tests were back. And after that, there’d be no slowing down until my body truly needed to slow down. If I had energy, I’d be putting it to good use as often as possible.
Anyone outside of immediate family and s/o who texted or called my cell phone for “updates” would be blocked.
Itsounds drastic, but for me, it would be crucial.
I truly feel like mine AND my family’s boundaries were not respected during my battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma. I think my parents were too kind to demand it, and I was not mature enough to ask for it in the proper way. I think we all would’ve fared better mentally and emotionally if we’d been stricter about “dropping by the house” and “calling to check in.”
This time around, I would designate either e-mail or Facebook messenger to well-wishers/update seekers, and I would be hella strict. I’d get back to people as I felt able to, and unless my house was on fire and they were texting to let me know, anyone who could not respect those wishes would have their numbers BLOCKED.
There would be meditation. Every. Single. Day.
I’m not a perfect meditator. I’m not even a truly faithful meditator. I meditate when I’m really stressed and feel like I need silence and calm. In fact, I probably spend more time reading aboutmeditation than I do actually meditating and it’s something I really want to work on. But from all that reading, I’ve learned that it can truly ONLY have positive effects on your body and mind.
It can’t hurt you. And I’ll take any free, non-toxic, non kidney-killing, fertility-destroying medicine that I can should I ever have to battle cancer again.
The technician came back into the exam room and told me that they just wanted to keep an eye on the fibroadenomas, and to come back for another ultrasound in six months.
That twelve minutes of planning wouldn’t need to be practiced. The world came back into focus.
Do I wish I had left the building with a completely uneventful ultrasound? Of course.
But I did leave with what felt like a solid and effective outline for battling another cancer diagnosis.
I think even if other cancer survivors don’t agree with my list, having a little “coping” plan tucked away for a rainy day can be extremely beneficial. There aren’t a lot of perks to having had cancer. But knowing how you want to cope with health crises in the future is one.
For a “scan”xiety worry wart like me, it might be even more valuable than a fibroadenoma-free titty.
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I didn’t post last week. You’ve all been flooding my inbox and text messages and sliding into my DMs like “omgggg Jesse where you been, girl, what have you been up to you’re so fascinating I need to know what series you finished on Netlix and if you solved world hunger and what you’re listening tooooooooooooo.”
And the answers are Bates Motel, No, and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”
Also nobody asked those things.
Nobody even noticed I was gone.
Not one of you.
And so I was like “f**k them they don’t even miss me.”
But then yesterday I got an email from a total stranger via my contact page saying “hey I found your website you’re really funny” and I was like:
So I decided to forgive you all.
I’m still chillin’ over here restyling and re-imagining myself every single day. Last week I thought it might be nice to look for work on a Christmas tree farm, but then I remembered “hard labor” and “cold” and “outside” and “people” and “axes”.
This week I might be a paralegal and next week could be anything from lunch lady to literally Kristin Wiig’s “Target Lady.”
But actually I’ve been thinking “hey, Jess, maybe the rest of fun-employment should be dedicated to establishing good habits and undoing bad ones so that when you DO go back to work you can be the bestest, most functional d**n lunch lady or Target lady or Christmas-tree-cutter-downer that ever lived.“
And then I was like “ooooh, that’s good. Write it down in your diary.”
And then I was like “omg you don’t KEEP a diary.”
And then I was like “I’ll START with keeping a diary.”
So I started keeping a diary, and my next goal is to maximize the time I’m awake between 6:45am and 7:45am.
So my boyfriend wakes us up at 5:45am (for his “j0b”, EYEROLL) and then I fall back to sleep until 6:30am, when he insists on waking me up to “chat” for a few minutes before he leaves (for his “j0b”, EYEROLL). Even though sometimes I can be cruel and hurtful and say things like “I want to punch you in the face with pointy blood-diamonds on every finger.“
I am very protective of my sleep.
So anyway, he leaves at like 6:45am, and I always decide that while I’m conscious, I might as well check my email JUST in case, overnight, like, someone found my website and wants to give me a book deal…or I’ve been discovered on YouTube and Casey Nicholaw thinks I’m the only actress who can relaunch Broadway…or like, @vintagespadefashion wants me to collab on Instagram to sell their repurposed fiberglass watches (?).
You never know.
SOMETIMES! I even GET OUT OF BED, GET A GLASS OF GREEN JUICE, SIT ON THE COUCH, AND PUT ON MORNING JOE.
However, from there…I just end up falling back to sleep. I need to find something to do–something enticing to groggy-wake-up-Jesse–that will keep me awake and keep up the momentum.
Momentum (n) the quantity of motion of a moving body, as measured as a product of its mass and velocity
WHOA. Sorry. Dating a physics teacher.
K, so, like, this morning instead of making a cup of coffee and free-writing, I cuddled up on the couch and checked in on the Ryan Phillippe/Ellen Degeneres feud, of which I am obviously Team Ryan because of the escalator in Cruel Intentions.
Then I decided I should follow him on Instagram.
Then I realized he doesn’t have Instagram.
Then I stalked a bunch of Ryan Phillippe fan accounts.
Then I watched the Cruel Intentions escalator scene on YouTube.
It was not a process conducive to starting a productive day. That 6:45am-7:45am hour is CRITICAL for me.
So that’s one habit I’m working on.
Or, rather, it’s a habit I’m wishing to change. I don’t know if I can necessarily say I’m “working” very hard on it.
I’m also trying to work on just staying in the present. Mindfulness. Appreciating the fall colors. Appreciating the people around me, the things I have, yadda yadda yadda…
And, see, the thing is, I know that having a stricter meditation schedule would really help with that.
But instead of meditating and focusing on my breath and all that jazz, I seem to prefer READING about mediation and focusing on the breath.
I have read so many books on meditation, mindfulness, and even on habit forming. But instead of finishing the books and then putting the subject matter into practice, I prefer to just read ANOTHER book about the same thing.
Which got me thinking….
MAYBE READING ABOUT MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS IS MY FORM OF MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS.
AND THEN I WENT LIKE
OR! OR! OR! I’m ADDICTED TO SELF-HELP BOOKS AND IT’S WHAT THE SELF-HELP BOOK PEOPLE WANT SO THAT I’LL BUY MORE BOOKS!!!!!!!!
Seneca Falls, New York is the home of the first US Women’s Rights Convention. We all memorized that somewhere along the line. Declaration of Sentiments, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, et cetera, et cetera. You probably wrote a shi**y essay about it or had to dress up as Lucretia Mott and give a “suffrage talk” about Women’s Rights to your third grade class who chuckled every time you said the word “sex.”
Fans of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life probably know a bit more about Seneca Falls. Frank Capra, the film’s director, spent time there while writing the script, and although the film was entirely made in California, it is said there are plenty of reasons to believe that he had Seneca Falls in mind when he created “Bedford Falls.” The tiny, doll-like train station, the references to Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira, NY…
…a bridge that runs over the sleepy canal in the middle of town that is now referred to as the “George Bailey Bridge.” Legend, of course, being that this is the bridge Capra recreated in the movie where George jumps to save Clarence the angel.
I’ve had the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life House’ pointed out to me many times throughout my life. “You want the moon, Mary?”
Downtown Seneca Falls is a picture of holiday cheer come Christmas-time, as you can probably imagine. Even a crotchity millennial like me can admit that when the “George Bailey Bridge” is all lit up, and the town twinkles red and green beside the water, it looks like a kind of “dream America.” A picturesque town ripped right out of the same history book you plagiarized your sh**ty paper from.
For me, Seneca Falls feels as much a part of my childhood as Syracuse does. I recently drove my boyfriend down ONE street in the middle of the town (slowly and creepily, of course), and narrated for him:
“this house was my aunt’s, then this one my grandmother’s. Across over there is a cousin, that house another aunt, then a great aunt, another cousin…and (as a woman emerges from a car parked up ahead) that’s actually some sort of cousin of mine crossing the street right now. Second, third, removed…I couldn’t tell you.”
My grandmother’s house in the middle of town was a weekly gathering place of the big Italian family every Sunday for pasta and meatballs and homemade sauce. Holidays would sometimes take place at a different family house on the same street, but her’s was always the home base. She was always the star of the show, and she held court from her rocking chair watching Judge Judy, a Stephanie Plum novel dog-eared on the coffee table.
I know losing grandparents is essentially a part of life. They are a privilege while they’re here, and they’re oftentimes our first experience with loss and death, (that is, if we’re lucky enough to have our immediate families around throughout the whole of childhood.)
I’m not gonna make this about cancer, because it’s not really about that, per se. The last year of my grandmother’s life was the year of my illness, and I don’t think I’ll ever truly know how it impacted her. I know it took a toll on everyone in the family, if not because they felt close with me, then because my diagnosis was an eerie reminder that none of us are safe from life’s unwelcome surprises, regardless of age.
But my grandmother was already battling a slew of health problems on her own, even before I upstaged her.
She died a week after I was declared in remission.
She never got to see me “being okay.”
Seneca Falls has never been the same since she passed, and I hadn’t spent more than two hours there in years, let alone two whole days.
There are too many ghosts.
But a few weeks back, my cousin needed a dog sitter while her family went camping for the weekend. Me, the “unemployed job-casualty” that I am, said, “Why not?”
I wrote last week about how I’ve been creepin’ around my hometown, scoping out locations of odd memories that stick out in my brain.
It’s muy, muy creepy…this I know. But I have no nefarious intentions and because I’m white I have the privilege of not really raising alarm bells. A sad but true reality that is not at all lost on me.
But my creepin’ reached an all-time high in Seneca Falls that weekend.
I arrived around six-thirty on Friday, tended to the dog, and ordered take-out from a restaurant on Fall Street (Seneca Falls’ aptly named version of Main Street). When I parked in front of the restaurant my dinner wasn’t ready yet, so I found myself wandering to the site of a canal-side bar, previously owned by two of my uncles (one of whom, my godfather, passed away in 2014).
I stood outside the glass door, and peered inside. The space is still a bar, but a different one now. I spied the corner where my Dad and godfather had been seated when I flung open the doors, twelve years old, to announce the arrival of my first period.
It had happened at my grandmother’s, naturally, where everything happened.
My dad covered his face with his hands.
My godfather set me up on the bar stool beside him and toasted my womanhood with a Shirley Temple.
Here, now, in 2020, sat two strangers, socially distant from the rest of the bar patrons. Someone made eye contact with me, and I scurried back up the leaf-covered stairs to Fall Street.
Later, I lay awake on my cousin’s couch, her dog snoring beside me. Twelve o’clock. One AM. Two AM. I had not slept a night in Seneca Falls since 2013.
I felt unsettled, something amiss even with all the doors locked and this giant black lab at my feet.
At two thirty I sprang up and threw on a hoodie and sneaks. The grass outside was already wet with dew, and the crunching of leaves underfoot scared me sh*tless when it cut through the silence.
I jumped into my mom’s CRV, (now my infamous “creepin” vehicle of choice) and drove out across the “George Bailey Bridge,” past the old video store where my cousins and I had hiked to rent tapes, past the pretty fountain in the middle of town, beyond the Women’s Rights Convention Memorial Park where I’d walked my aunt’s dog, Dexter, and begged him not to poop.
I parked myself on the street in front of my grandmother’s house.
Turned off the car lights.
Sat in silence.
I dream about this house all the time. Dreams where I’m fumbling around looking for something, ascending the staircase, or looking out the upstairs window.
In most of the dreams I’m by myself, but every now and then my grandmother appears and I tell her we thought she had died. I tell her I’m so happy we were wrong, but that we should be very careful so she doesn’t die again.
I have never had a dream about my grandmother that doesn’t take place in the house. She never appears anywhere else.
So now I stare at the dark house in the middle of the night and wonder if maybe she’s in there somehow. I know it sounds weird but…I dunno…residual energies, that kind of thing? Possible?
A television flickers in the window of the tiny house next door. I’ve only been sitting here three minutes but I know I should leave. I know I’m being a total creep. I know this is weird.
Stars splash across the sky over the tiny garage at the back of the driveway where my grandfather used to grow grapes. Where he’d taken me once to show me the grapes, but told me not to pick any.
I picture myself sitting on the porch ledge in my navy blue bathing suit with the mesh top that always made me afraid my nipples were showing.
Gram tells me to be careful up there.
I try to feel like me at 5.
Me at 5, wanting to pick the grapes.
Me at 9, sun-kissed.
Me at 12, pimply.
Me at 18, bald.
I watch “ghost me” rip a big green leaf off the vines that had covered the house. I hear my Mom tell me to stop messing with them.
“Sauce is ready.”
“Set the table.”
“Is everyone here?”
I know I need to leave, but I whisper into the stale air, “what the hell are we doing down here, Gram?”
She didn’t get to see me being okay.
Am I okay?
The stars, again, distract me with a wink.
“Don’t pick the grapes, don’t touch, just look.”
I feel like Pierre at the end of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, wondering how I got here, wondering what it all comes to in the end.
‘…and there in the middle above Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars shines the Great Comet…‘
I feel better now, and I don’t know why.
I dry my tears and head back.
When my cousin returns, I ask if she’s seen how different the house looks now, although I know she must. She lives in the small town, after all.
My cousin says ‘yes.’
She says she knows the woman who lives in the house now. The third owner since my grandmother.
“I told her that was our grandparents’ house, and she asked me if they’d died in the house. I told her they had. She said she could hear and feel things sometimes in the house. Energies. She said it feels friendly.”
The other day my mom told me that I remind her of “the red head on Difficult People.”
And I was like…”sooo…the MAIN difficult person?”
And she was like, “not because I think you’re difficult, though!”
And I was all, “ew, eye roll emojiiiiiii”
And so you know what I told her today? I said, “Mom, you never showed me Hocus Pocus as a kid and that’s why I am the way I am.”
She laughed, but I did not.
Because can you imagine the utter humiliation I felt in college when my roommates skipped class to watch Hocus Pocus and drink pumpkin ale and I said “oh, is this Casper Meets Wendy?”
IS IT ANY WONDER I’M UNSUCCESSFUL AND UNEMPLOYED?
Well, I’ve had nothing but time during the pandemic to think about what has made me the way I am, and quarantining in the town where I grew up, I’ve been able to do some real investigating. If you live in the Syracuse area and have noticed a girl with a tiny topknot and sunglasses-even-though-it’s-overcast, driving a gray CRV slowly by your house, trying desperately to see over the steering wheel, it’s 100% me.
I’m driving by your house because
a) an old friend of mine used to live there and I used to go to her house and play, and I’m trying to get in touch with my inner child
b) I remember passing your house on the school bus and imagining whoever lived there was a sad old woman who’s husband drowned in the Erie Canal…(don’t ask, I was fascinated by the Erie Canal)
c) I stuck my head under the tiny waterfall of the creek that runs through your backyard (on a dare!)
or d) I lost my virginity in your house
I know, I know. This seems creepy and unsettling, but I promise it’s an important part of my healing process.
On some real sh–, though, I’ve found it quite therapeutic. Because ever since having cancer (yes, the cancer card! I know, you’re SHOCKED!) I’ve tried many times to remember what it felt like to not have that big black mark on my life. What it was like to be a real kid. And I think once I was well and it was time for me to go to college, I left Syracuse with the singular impression that I wouldn’t–couldn’t–ever spend more time than a summer’s vacation there ever again.
I guess I just figured it was because I had that typical, angsty, “I-HATE-MY-HOMETOWN-IT’S-SO-LAME-MAN” thing going on.
But in truth? I think it was because I was just afraid of being surrounded by history. Afraid of the memories of the “before” Jesse creeping up. The places she went, the things she did. Knowing how difficult it is sometimes to try and remember what it was like to be that girl…
Or, rather, maybe I DO remember what it was like to be that girl quite well…and what makes me sad is knowing how innocent she was, and how blindsided she would be by the darkness of the world…
Or honestly, it could’ve been the Hocus Pocus thing. IF YOU WEREN’T GONNA SHOW ME THAT MOVIE, MOM AND DAD, WHY DID YOU EVEN HAVE ME!?
I told myself I would force myself to write something today. The problem is I have nothing to ‘say’ but I have, like, 3 billion things to SAY.
Like, for SAYING’s sake, I thought I had a blackhead on my upper lip because I felt something stinging it, and in retrospect it was probably just a cut or irritation, but once I decided it was a blackhead I just sat there and squeezed and picked and poked and stabbed at it and finally it became a giant wound that’s scabbed over and definitely looks like a giant herpe.
Which I guess…I GUESS…if I needed something to ‘say’…I could tie the previously described scenario into a great big beautiful metaphor about idle minds. Idle minds make trouble where there is none? Something like that?
Oh, oh, and Arnold Rothstein told Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire that man’s greatest flaw is his inability to just sit quietly in a chair. Something like that. It blew my mind, because I’ve been very zen and contemplative lately because what the hell else do I have to do?
But like…do you get it? Like, why can’t we just sit still and shut up? Like birds and dogs and shit sit there for so long doing nothing and they seem way happier than us.
And like, a cactus? A cactus is alive, don’t forget!
I lost the point.
The point is, don’t pick at your skin because you are bored or you will give yourself a giant herpe-lookin’ thing. Don’t go looking for trouble where this is none.
Oh my, god f***ing BRILLIANT, Jesse, you SAID something AND you ‘said’ something.
TUNE IN FOR MORE ENTHRALLING HIJINX FROM THE RANKS OF THE UNEMPLOYED!
It seems to me we spend our entire childhoods wondering who we will be.
Will we be beautiful, tall, successful, happy, rich, married, etc, etc.
We ask these questions and say we want to be a This or we want to be a That. We play MASH and determine we will live in a mansion with Aaron Carter and drive a blue punch-buggy.
We work hard to get good grades, good SAT scores, good everything so we will get in to a good college and be good and do everything good, so that when college is done, our lives will be good.
It seems to me that once we grow up—once we get the degree, get the things, find the cow as white as milk, the slipper as pure as gold—once we get our wish, or alas, we do not get our wish…there is a strange reversal.
We start wondering, and this time it’s more of an investigation because this time there are solid clues—real evidence. We start wondering who we were.
What were we thinking?
Why did we do that?
Why did we want that?
I have spent quarantine-time up at my childhood town in Upstate New York.
It has been both lovely and strange.
I have nothing but time…time to go through old boxes in my bedroom, time to go through plastic, dust-covered bins full of photographs in the basement. My boyfriend, who also lives in town, (and who I conveniently met three and a half weeks before quarantine began), has now sat through many dinners with my family and heard countless stories about me and my sister growing up:
“Jesse used to run upstairs and lock herself in her bedroom when we tried to sing happy birthday to her.”
“Jackie refused to face the audience during her 4th grade chorus concert.”
“Jesse touched the burner on the stove to see if it was hot the first time she made a grilled cheese.”
We all laugh.
But now with all this free time, I really, truly think about these things. I wonder why I couldn’t stand the attention of a “Happy Birthday” chorus. In a shyness all her own, why Jackie could not stand the audience watching her sing in a chorus concert.
I search my face in piles of old photographs for a sign of what I was thinking on that day in history. Was this the phase where I worried constantly about my pimples, or was I struggling with math…why did I love that T-shirt? Why that haircut?
Looking at a few, I wonder had you even met a black person yet? Had you had a black classmate? A black schoolteacher? When did you first know it was better to have your skin?
On HBO, Lorraine Bracco leads Tony Soprano, the famous, fictional mob boss, through therapy. Uncle June used to tease him about not making varsity, and why was his mother so cold and volatile and how has it impacted him? Why is he broken today because of who he was yesterday?
How will he ever stop fainting at the sight of sliced meat after watching his father cut off Mr. Satriale’s pinky?
I sit at a table with my mother and three of my aunts, listening to them talk about their parents (my grandparents). What they used to say to them. How it made them feel. What they said to “you and not me”, “he was that way with me and X”, “she’d say that to me, too”, “he never was that way with Y”.
“I remember a moment on my first trip home from college—” says Mom, “X, do you know what I’m going to say?”
X remembers, and she remembers how she sat on the front stairs waiting for her in the freezing cold and how later on Papa wouldn’t sit with her at the table. How that made her feel.
How that made Mom feel.
These women—these strong, influential women of my life—remember these tiny needles from their past, and they work through their memories and words to figure out how these needles lay in the giant haystacks that have become their lives.
It makes me all the more curious about my own needles, and I think I must have a lot of needles.
Nearly four months outside of my New York City life, I have enough space to speculate on my world there—my behaviors and habits, wants and needs, triumphs and failures. I can see the whole haystack that was my life there.
And here upstate, I have nothing but time to sift through it.
We became someone. We became adults. But who even were we back then?
When my parents retired, I teased them for turning into bird-watching old people. It seemed like as soon as they had extra time, all they wanted to fill it with was commenting on birds in the yard, setting up birdbaths and bird feeders, and looking up any birds they thought were remarkable.
My dad even liked to break-up bird fights.
When the weather finally changed this spring, and we could finally spend time outside-but-quarantined…I found myself falling Alice-first into the rabbit hole that is birds, and I thought ‘maybe there’s something to this…maybe the reason it happens to retirees is because they’ve finally stopped working long enough to smell the flowers. Taste the spring. Listen to the birds.
Feel the moment.’
Being on unemployment during this pandemic is a lot like being a retiree I suppose—I feel so much more attached to the moment because I have no choice but to notice the moment.
The only difference besides my age is that the promise of a return to the “real world” looms on high. And it is frightening.
There is a cardinal nest in the bush outside my window. The babies are a little less than a week old. Each day I check on them, check on their progress and wonder which will come first: