Arms reach out, eager
to touch stingy distant rays,
spring (as usual)
approaching with cold feet, slow—
much too slow, if you ask me.
Arms reach out, eager
to touch stingy distant rays,
spring (as usual)
approaching with cold feet, slow—
much too slow, if you ask me.
Every January, the new year practically begs us to begin projects and gain habits. These things rarely stick, though, as we know, and I suspect it’s because we try to take on the new things without having fully said our farewells to the old things.
I spent a lot of time this past year purging my belongings, both physical and virtual, in final acceptance of the fact that my college days are over, and in preparation of married life* (*owning nicer things). I meticulously emptied out the trusty cardboard-box-under-the-bed of important papers I’ve had lying around for about five years, sorted it all, and bought hanging files. There is currently nothing under [my side of] the bed, despite my long-held belief that under-the-bed storage is the highest form of storage.
As I was writing down some of my resolutions for this year, I noticed that most of my goals could absolutely not be met unless they took the place of something else in my life. Given the free time I have, I pretty much can’t read more unless I watch TV less. Something has to give.
So, really, most New Year’s resolutions are actually two resolutions: one thing to start, one thing to stop. It doesn’t even have to be a negative thing that gets pushed aside – just something that has served its purpose. For example, I cannot in good conscience allow myself to own another sweatshirt until I remove my then-boyfriend’s/now-husband’s high school Remedy Drive hoodie from [my side of] the closet. Time to say goodbye!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
The house is almost out of food, but my feet hurt too much to grocery shop and it’s too hot to cook anyway, so here I am, writing, prolonging the inevitable.
I had a good week. My car, which had been making a sound that concerned me, was discharged with a clean bill of health (and a mere thirty dollar bill) by my trusted mechanic. My partner and I watched through the new Netflix original show, GLOW, which we enjoyed immensely and recommend.
I planned every morning to get up early so I could make coffee and lunches and have enough time to sit on the couch and drink my coffee instead of heading directly to work…and I made this happen one whole time! Monday morning I had enough time to do all of the above, and to finish a short story by The New Yorker author Yiyun Li, from her stories collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. The experience was so lovely, so the rest of the week I continued to set alarms for 5:30, 5:45, 5:55, 6:00, 6:10, and 6:15, but, alas, my half-asleep self has always been a stubborn, brutish fiend. I hope someday to replicate the experience. Maybe when I’m forty.
The heat and humidity has once again turned my kitchen into a sauna, and my plants are loving it. Candice the Caladium seems to have new leaf growth every day, and my partner won’t stop exclaiming about the success I’ve had with my avocado plant. (Yes, it does work! Expecting homemade guacamole in approximately three to fifteen years.) I keep having to incrementally raise the window blinds because I believe Candy and Avi are having a height competition. Finally, my ginger root decided to become a plant again, its only stimulus from my end being disuse.
It just started to thunder. I’m hoping the torrential rain sends a much-needed cool night our way. But right now, as the walkway floods, I’m enjoying the heavy sound of close thunder and fat rain.
I am good at following directions. This has made me a teacher’s pet, an over-critical manager, and a passable cook. But following the letter of the law sometimes fails me, as it did today when I was boiling eggs.
I decided to try a new recipe for egg salad in an attempt to cut grocery costs (E. has expensive taste in lunch meat) and because it incorporated radishes, which sounded delightful. A few months ago I finally stumbled upon the best, most hassle-free, repeatable way to boil eggs perfectly, and I was excited because it was easy enough that I could add it to my [very small] collection of “recipes” I know by heart. (Although I must admit, all I remember is that it involves a steamer insert and the number thirteen.)
Fast forward to this evening. I noticed that the new egg salad recipe seemed a bit strange in how it said to prepare the eggs. I even thought the words, “This won’t work.” But directions are directions, and I followed the steps flawlessly. When it came time to peel the eggs, I went to roll the first one along the counter to break up the shell. The entire egg smashed beneath my hand, leaving a gooey, raw mess. I felt utterly betrayed. My partner ignored me as I yelled and cursed in the other room about how it wasn’t fair. Then I did something even stupider and tried peeling a second egg.
I reboiled the remaining four and started afresh with two new ones. After recovering from my anger at the instructions, I am now only angry at myself. May this be a lesson to me, to listen to my better judgment and, for God’s sake, to memorize more basic recipes.
We all know the old saying. Money doesn’t grow on trees. But when my sister and I were kids, money grew on weeds.
In the summers, on the border of our neighbors’ yard and ours, past the swing set, behind the willow tree, and between Threepinederoga and my mom’s garden, tall, bright green weeds grew. The stalks were covered radially with three- or four-inch oblong leaves that were slightly fuzzy, somewhat floppy, and perfect specimens for make-believe currency.
I never knew what they were called; I never cared until I wanted to blog about it. A cursory web search has suggested the terms “marestail” and “horseweed” and Conyza canadensis, although I can’t verify this with my diminishing visual memory of the plant.
What I do remember distinctly about the moneyplant is the smell it would give off when you tore bills from that primitive ATM. The smell was earthy, sharp, and very, very green. It was so delightfully pungent that I used to rip the leaves up after I was done “paying” with them just so I could smell it again.
In case you were wondering, yes, I did regularly tear up different leaves from around the yard to investigate their odor. The moneyplant is just one of many whose properties I discovered. For example, there was a small, feathery weed you could find low in the grass that smelled minty (but wasn’t mint). Did you know that the shredded leaf of a checkerberry plant smells exactly like its berries taste? You’d be surprised at what you find when you dabble in botany.
But I completely forgot about the scent of the moneyplant until I started cooking for myself a few years ago.
It happened when I was chopping parsley. Olfactory memory is strange because you almost never can identify the origin of the nostalgia at first. This is just normal fresh parsley, so why have I been transported to a childhood summer? After wracking my brain I finally remembered the moneyplant. If that weed really was C. canadensis, I can find no indication that it’s related to parsley (although American Indians did use it as an herb and apparently when dried it tastes like tarragon). However, the memory is reawakened every single time I chop parsley, so I figure there might be something to it. I can’t think of another olfactory trigger that affects me like this does or that conjures as specific and unadulterated a memory.
The money of my childhood and the money of my adulthood bear only a few similarities. For one, I used to keep a stash of moneyplant bills, and I still hoard my money today. (What are banks but professionally-tended hoards of money?) The bills are still green, but I wouldn’t recommend tearing them up and huffing the pieces anymore. Adult money’s harder to come by, but worth more. It can make you more comfortable but not more happy. The memory of the moneyplant’s aroma, on the other hand, offers no material comfort whatsoever, but every time I chop parsley, I smile. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but as it turns out, happiness just might.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a hard time entertaining myself. This is not for lack of creativity – I could spend hours on a project once I started one – but the actual initiation of an activity always came as a difficulty to me.
Thankfully, my sister, who is three years my senior and the queen of self-entertainment, was usually kind enough to let me glom onto her activities. When I was really little, I would follow her around and copy everything she did (to her vexation); but even as we got older, I did most of the things she did. When she got to go to school and I had to stay home, I begged my mother to be the source of my activities.
I am, of course, ashamed of this; and I’m also ashamed to say that this struggle has not much worn off with time. I often get out of work three or four hours before my partner does and rarely have anything to show for it. Although my productive days are very productive, they are few and far between.
The worst part is that I know the solution to my problem. If I write down a list – a physical list – of everything I want to do after work, I will accomplish 90% of it. If I do not write down a physical list of the things I want to accomplish, I will not accomplish anything at all. I will sit on my ass and scroll through my phone for several hours.
Writing a daily list is so simple, and yet I hardly ever do it. And I’m not just talking about tasks. I’m pretty good about making a task list and checking those things off (wedding lists abound right now). I’m really talking about a list of things that I would like to do. Places I’ve been meaning to check out. Activities for my mental health and to get me out of the work-home-work-home routine. So, today I wrote such a list.
Contrary to the above evidence, I am not a huge shopper, but I had a couple things I was looking for (which I ended up either not finding or not buying) and copious time to kill after work. As you can see, I also included a few small tasks into the mix as well as the cryptic word “vanilla”; and yes, I have been known to be idle enough not to shave unless it is written in ink. I even still had plenty of time to sit on my ass and scroll on my phone! But the point is that I got myself to do activities, ungoaded and unaccompanied, something which I am learning is necessary for a thriving adulthood. Even as I write this I am fulfilling “yoga” (which for me just means gentle stretches), but entirely because I wrote it down.
I feel really stupid admitting that I struggle with something most six year olds have a firm grasp on. I am especially aware of this shortcoming now as I prepare to make vows of eternal companionship, in spite of which I am sure I will oftentimes find myself alone and in need of diversion. I thought that if I made myself face such a disgraceful flaw in writing, in public, that I might work harder to fight against the lethargy and dependence that for some reason has been encumbering me since childhood.
Two Januaries ago I had a month off classes to write my culminating undergraduate paper. I spent a good chunk of that time sitting on the enormously comfortable sectional couch in my partner and his housemates’ living room, crisscross applesauce, laptop on lap, notebooks and papers balanced precariously on each knee, slowly going insane from focusing on a single subject for weeks on end.
Instead of using this time to travel, I stayed in town and picked up a few extra shifts at work. But that bachelor pad couch became something of my home base: a versatile spot, conducive to both work and relaxation, perfect for writing long papers and for watching hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The couch holds a special place in my memory for other reasons, too. For one, it was large enough that we could fit pretty much as many friends on it as we wanted. It’s fun to try to guess how many Yuengling Lagers it saw in those days (too many). But it was also the very spot I was when I had an important realization.
* * *
I was sitting on the couch one afternoon during my paper writing period, my partner somewhere nearby. It suddenly dawned on me that after five years of companionship I couldn’t envision a life that didn’t have us together, and I knew he felt the same. I looked up from my work and asked him, “Are we engaged?” A look of revelation passed over his eyes as he replied, “Yeah. I think we are!” And that was that, until he officially proposed and we officially announced our engagement just over two years later.
* * *
This is not the story that people expect or want to hear when they ask about a couple’s engagement, and it is not a story that I have ever told before. Part of the reason I haven’t told this story is that it’s largely based on the notion that we’re together because we’re comfortable, which is something people often warn about in a relationship. “Don’t just stay together because it’s easier than leaving”; “Don’t get/let him get too comfortable” because the romance will die or because it’s an indication of settling.
While I see the good intentions behind these warnings, I would like to reintroduce the positive side of comfort – one that makes me believe whole-heartedly that comfort is an excellent reason to spend forever with someone.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with friendship. The friends I feel closest to are the ones who have seen me in pajamas and glasses, pre-coffee and pre-undereye concealer.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with trust. Enough difficult things happen in life, that being with a person you’re used to becomes an invaluable asset in overcoming or enduring hardship.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with affection. I find my partner the most endearing when his guard is down and he’s being himself.
* * *
Now, obviously there are ways to abuse the comfort you share with another person, just as there are ways to abuse a couch; e.g., by being a couch potato or by spilling a lot of beer on it. But overall I think that couch is an apt metaphor for our relationship: trusty comrade in both work and play, flexible yet supportive, and comfortable to the max.