nineteen

Like graying temples
in the November of life—
orange, yellow, red


While New England leaves are long gone, mid-Atlantic colors only just peaked.

A month, which in childhood I associated with the color gray, is now fringed with neon.

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fears

I lay awake in bed at three o’clock this morning and listened to the wind gusts that left many of my northern friends and family without power today. I could feel a draft swirling through the apartment and hoped the old pecan tree outside wouldn’t disrobe its branches on my frightened little car below.

As a young child, I was convinced the dead tree outside my window would fall onto my room with the slightest provocation of nighttime wind. When I got older and upgraded to the bedroom on the second floor, I dreaded the same thing, but with the ash tree on the other side of the house. In every scenario, the trees, violated by the wind, would crush me in my bed. Sometimes I would die, although more often I would be trapped or my legs would be broken, but the trees never missed. Sometimes I would pull the covers over my head for protection from these scenarios, sometimes for protection from the draft.

I didn’t fear the wind nearly as much during the day. A tall pine that lived behind the stone wall would creak and visibly sway in the wind, but I felt more interested in it than afraid. That’s because the daytime wind has a friendlier sort of wildness, especially when it’s warm and wet and dampens the hair at the base of your head into humid ringlets. Cold wind makes the top layer of snow dance and blows it in your eyes. Though rough, it’s playful. But the wind at night has a wildness that filled me with dread.

Nighttime wind sneaks into the edges of your house, slides under your door, seeps through your window panes. It’s inky and violent. It doesn’t want to play. It wants to fell trees and crush you (and your car) in your sleep.

The weeping willow, which loomed over the back yard, shook wildly in the wind, dropping leaves, whips, and catkins in its wake. When daytime gusts would become too strong for me to continue playing outside, I would race back towards the house, in playful earnest, until I determined I was out of range of the willow tree, were it to get blown over. I knew the day I didn’t make this hustle would be the day the tree crushed me, and I wasn’t about to let my guard down.

However, I was wrong. We were all inside the day the willow tree fell.

In this story, weeping willow is an apt name. When you have a dear friend who is a tree, it is okay to cry when it dies, even if you are fourteen years old and in high school. It had likely been dying for years, as evinced by the shelf mushrooms and spongy wood we found running all the way through its massive trunk; but a tree as anthropomorphized as Grandmother Willow dies the day she falls.

We heard a loud crack, and then a thud. That word thud conjures not only the sound she made on impact, but also a feeling in the pit of my stomach, whenever I remember. Thud has come to mean a dull, heavy sound, but it’s related to an old word that meant “violent wind”. That afternoon the wind had a violent, nighttime streak and knocked down the best tree I ever had the honor of knowing. With a thud, the wind performed a sacrifice that was not its to make.

I still fear the destruction of body and property that a strong wind can bring. At night it still sounds occult, like a wandering poltergeist with a thirst for havoc. The wind in its chaos makes the things you most fear happen when you least expect them to: All those nights of expecting to be crushed by a tree could not prepare me for the thud of Grandmother Willow, bowing under the pressure of the wind one last time.

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RIP Grandmother Willow, October 2006

collection

The driveway to my house growing up was made up of small rocks. Not gravel or pebbles, but rocks maybe one to two inches in diameter. In the winter, this made the driveway a nightmare to shovel; and in the spring, we would have to pick out and put back all the rocks that had been shoveled into the lawn throughout the winter.

Unsurprisingly, as I originate from the Granite State, most of those rocks were granite. There were, however, a fair number of quartz ones, and ones with sparkly mica throughout, and these I collected. Any time I found an interesting or appealing rock, I would remove it from the driveway and pile on the outdoor fireplace. Perhaps it’s needless to say that, by the end of my childhood, our driveway was practically bare.

This interest extended into the greater world, too: I distinctly remember a library day in elementary school when I took out (and then renewed) the Smithsonian’s Rock and Gem Book, just to pore over the brightly colored jewels and minerals photographed. (There was even a rock that looked like what we would later know as the poop emoji.)

I collected other things, too. During the autumns when my sisters were away at school but I was still too young, my mom and I would take nature walks and collect the brightest fallen leaves we could find. We “laminated” them with packing tape onto a large roll of paper. We kept that for years.

But my biggest and longest-lasting collection is stickers. I can’t tell you how many times during college that I kicked myself for not having brought my sticker collection with me to school. I finally righted that wrong senior year, and it has not left my side since. It’s always there for me in a time of need, which in recent years has primarily meant my nephews’ birthdays.

I keep them all in a small, red, plastic briefcase that has the words “Sticker Treasure Kit” emblazoned on it in sparkles with twenty-seven sparkly smileys beneath. The hinge was taped back together long ago.

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A trove of untold treasures

As I worked on my nephew’s belated birthday card this afternoon, I pulled out the ol’ kit in a hurry and flipped through its contents to find what I needed. Letter stickers. I knew I had many pages of different kinds of lettering, but what were the odds that I would still possess the correct letters for a birthday message? I always used them sparingly, but of course there would not be an “L” to be found. (It is, after all, the greatest letter in the alphabet.) Miracle of miracles, I dug up enough of the same style lettering to write “HAPPY 8th B*DAY ARI” in curly, yellow letters. The remainder of the card I littered with other stickers, among which were a great cat from Disney’s Tarzan, a sun wearing nerdy glasses, a bee, and some planets.

My collection is extensive. Stickers intended to be used as the nail-art of a nine-year-old. Braille letter stickers from a code kit I got as a present. An unimaginable number of ladybug stickers from my grandmother, because she called me her Ladybug. Smiley face stickers of every shape, size, and color. Psychedelic dancing beans (?). Creepy snowmen. A lot of fruity scratch-and-sniff stickers that have long since lost their scent.

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Miscellaneous wonders
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Only some of the ladybugs

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From a Scholastic Book Fair book I bought that totally also came with a Magic School Bus fanny pack. Choose your books wisely, kids.

To some I realize this might make me seem like a hoarder. (I promise, it’s a very small box.) But I know you can picture the way a kid’s face lights up when you offer them a sticker. Even a toddler who can’t speak yet brightens up at a sticker, and a spark of intelligence passes over their eyes because they already know, as I do, that stickers are awesome.

So, even if this collection of mine brings some criticism my way, who’s the one standing here today with four pristine condition, vintage Lisa Frank stickers, hmm?

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Seeing is believing

time

Time. There often seems to be too much and not enough, simultaneously. The pressures of what needs to be done and of what needs to be waited for, swirling around my mind, paralyzing me. The thought I don’t have time for that! crosses my mind multiple times a day, but for the most part it’s just an imagination of my anxiety. Once I realized this fantasy of helplessness, I decided to compile a list of things that I do have time for, things I can squeeze into my day pretty much no matter what, even when I feel like I can’t.

I have time to wash a dish in the sink.

I have time to make a cup of coffee in the morning.

I have time to leave my house ten minutes earlier and walk to work instead of drive.

I have time to give my partner a hug.

I have time to check the mail. (This one’s easy for me; I check it somewhat obsessively. Even on Sundays.)

I have time to be kind.

It seems crazy that I have to remind myself of such simple things. When life gets overwhelming and The List reaches a record length, it helps bring me sanity to remember that there are daily victories hiding in the chaos.

Time has been trucking on at an unbelievable pace these last seven months. Days away from my wedding now, I’m thankful for my ability to accomplish tasks that I know, though simple to me, are real challenges for many people. I can wake up every morning and go to work. I can feed and bathe myself. I can drive to the store. I can sleep seven hours.

The days fly by. But they haven’t run me over.

le café

I’ve been quite sick for over a week now. One thing that sickness always affects is my coffee consumption—it irritates my throat and tastes funny, so for the first few days of being sick I just don’t bother. This probably makes me feel even worse than I would, since I’ve been a cup-a-day-er since fifteen. Anyway, being sick had me thinking a lot about coffee (because green tea just doesn’t cut it).

I have an interesting mix of snobby and trashy coffee habits. For example, I only drink pour-over and I can’t stomach dark roast, but I’ll also leave my coffee out for hours and still drink it later. I try not to judge people too much for their own coffee habits (I’m looking at you, Pumpkin Spice), because mine have changed drastically over the years.

For a couple years we only bought expensive locally roasted beans, until we finally admitted that we weren’t quite rich enough for that lifestyle yet. From sugar and 1/2 and 1/2 to black (out of the necessities of college life at first, then out of preference); from automatic drip to manual pour-over; from the darkest I could find to medium-light at most; from pre-ground to my worst nightmare being that the power goes out and we can’t use the grinder.

Here are a few of my current feelings and practices.


How many coffee mugs do I need to be happy?

Answer: Four functional ones. Right now I have three functional and one broken, which I haven’t thrown away yet because coffee cups can be sentimental too, you know.

How much coffee should I drink before it’s safe to drive?

A: At least one-third of my cup. Before that, my brain thinks it’s too much effort to look both ways before turning. I have accidentally driven right past a stop sign, which left me wondering how it’s not illegal for a coffee drinker to drive uncaffeinated.

Have I experienced caffeine withdrawal?

A: My first thought many mornings, especially on days I get to sleep in, is that I need to make coffee. Sometimes it’s my first word of the day, croaked out in supplication to my partner. It has also occasionally been my main motivation for getting out of bed, even though I don’t feel like I actually like coffee all that much. I rarely finish a whole cup, and I often don’t enjoy it. It’s simply a fact of life. With any luck this will be the closest I ever edge toward an addiction.

I drink my coffee black, so why should I wash the mug with soap?

A: This practice is acceptable in college, but not after (although my partner would protest). But, if I’m being honest, I still think a good, hot rinse-and-rub is okay about every other time.

What is the perfect temperature for coffee consumption?

A: Right between “my mouth will never taste again!” and “why do people even drink this shit?” This window lasts roughly 45 seconds.

How many times am I going to microwave the remaining half inch of coffee in my mug before I accept that I’m never going to finish it, or decide to turn it into iced coffee instead?

A: About five.

And, related:

How long is too long to have my coffee sitting out, unfinished, before I can no longer in good conscience turn it into iced coffee?

A: More than a day.


Judge away.

This morning’s coffee, the dregs of which I turned into iced coffee.

seventeen

Pungent, dirty brass
The wholly forgotten smell
Of childhood bangles.


I cannot count the times I’ve sorted through my jewelry. When I was a kid, I kept it in a pretty glass and wooden box. Since college, my storage has devolved into a small plastic container with drawers that I now cover in a nice scarf because it’s too shameful to look upon as a twenty-five year old. I’ve purged my collection dramatically over the years, sending bags of bracelets, earrings, and necklaces to young girls from church who would appreciate them more than I, if not use them more. Beaded things, homemade things, wire and gem and silver and plastic.

 

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A practical storage solution: Necklaces on top, bracelets in the middle, and stamps on the bottom.

I am proud to say I greatly reduced my collection during college. Every time I went home, I would discard half a dozen items or so. Every time I moved, I would go through my box again and get rid of more.

I went through it again today, but I no longer set the pieces aside to give to others, and this is why: I once saved a cheap fake gold chain for probably close to fifteen years just because some teenage girl I admired had gifted it to me, even though I broke it within days of receiving it. That’s right. I saved an irreparably broken necklace for over a decade. I decided I don’t want to subject other young minds to the difficulty of parting with my useless junk down the road. It is cruel to them and a cop-out on my part, as if I somehow delay the inevitable destruction of my possessions by giving them to new owners, rather than throwing them out myself. I have been a coward.

So today I simply tossed them. Bracelets from my travels. Beach jewelry. Gifts from sisters (sorry). Somehow a necklace that was given to me for my fifth grade graduation still made the cut, and even as I sit here writing I feel both horrified by and justified in keeping it. It’s a lovely little frame with tiny pink pressed flowers behind clear resin. I haven’t worn it in years. Many years.

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Received when I was eleven. Haven’t worn since maybe fifteen. Can. Not. Part. With. It.

I threw out several things (including the last two bottles of my high school perfume!), but still kept more than I use, or will use, probably ever. I do like jewelry. I enjoy receiving it and looking at it and coveting it. But my body tends to get uncomfortable very quickly, so in reality I only wear standard 316L stainless steel rings in my various piercings, plugs in my ears (all new since adulthood), an engagement ring (new since February) and occasionally a necklace with a single pearl. In September I will add a plain titanium band.

And yet after going through my hideous box, here I am, sitting on the couch, with not one but two old anklets around my foot, and I have no intention of throwing them out today, despite this being the last time they will likely ever be worn.

When will she learn? The truth is, she is still learning.

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Just hangin’ out in my Correct Toes, wearin’ anklets. The bottom one just reeks of cheap brass.