Archive for memory

It’s Going to Be OK

Posted in Memoir, real life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2017 by sethdellinger

I sat, waiting, in the Big Room.

Around me were gathered about forty others, in the hardbacked plastic seats, under the blare of florescents.  Most were having side or group conversations, hushed, but I sat quietly to myself, waiting.  The Big Room was, naturally, the largest room in the rehab facility.  It was the only room that everyone gathered in at once.  We started our days there with roll call and would cycle back in a few more times each day for various large meetings and activities, and ended most nights there with, typically, something profound or at least an attempt at profundity.  This is such a night.

The hushed conversations come to a halt as the head counselor, Bob, enters the room.  He takes his time situating some papers on a small desk near the front of the room.  We all give him our full attention.  Bob is that rarest kind of person: a truly warm-hearted, immensely kind person who nonetheless is not to be trifled with.  Finally he clears his throat and begins.  “Tonight, folks, we are going to put you in touch with your younger self.”

Bob went on to explain that in a few minutes, another of the counselors was going to join us; I forget this counselor’s name, but she was one of the counselors who mainly stayed in her office and had individual therapy sessions, so her joining us at night in the Big Room was unusual.  Bob explained that she was going to walk us through an experience that was like hypnosis, but was not hypnosis, and this was going to be a special night for us.  Then the other counselor came in, and Bob turned the lights almost all the way off.

“Hello,” she said.  “I want you all to get as comfortable as you can.  If you want to stretch out and lay on the floor, please do, or stay seated if you prefer.”  I stayed in my seat.  “I want you to imagine a house you lived in when you were younger.  It doesn’t matter how much younger, just that it be a time before you started using drugs or alcohol.  Picture the outside of the house.  Now I want you to breathe as steadily, as deeply, as slowly as you can.  Picture the outside of the house and all its details until I speak again.”  Here there was a long pause.  “Now keep breathing just as you are. Slowly but steadily.  Please envision yourself gliding in toward the front door of this house.  Imagine you are a–”

 

I am in the kitchen.  It’s the kitchen of my childhood home, the one on Big Spring Avenue.  I smell the old smell, and the quality of the air.  I blink my eyes to make sure I am seeing this correctly.  I am seated with my back to the den, the open doorway that opens onto the den, and I am looking into the kitchen.  The trusty, dense and solid dining room table sits in the center of the room, just a few feet in front of me.  To my right is the open door into the playroom (later, the office) and to my left, the trash can and the corner of the kitchen.  In front of me and beyond the dining room table, there is the old boxy Frigidaire, the squat electric range, the closed door to the “back room”, and the cabinets, sink, the intense orange formica countertops, the paint on the cabinets so thick from multiple coats that I can see the bubbles from way over here.  But most of all, the wallpaper, the paisley-esque floral pattern that never seemed to repeat itself, the busiest walls in town,  all the swirling greens, yellows and oranges you could ever ask for.  I sit staring, agog, at a room from the dustbin of my mind, all the details intact, the sensory flash a blinding experience, like surfacing from beneath water which you did not know you were beneath. It seems that full minutes pass as I sit there–seemingly immobile–in silence except for the ticking hands on the Seth Thomas that’s above the trash can.  Then suddenly, I see him enter from the playroom.  He is quite young, perhaps eight years old.  He is a tiny little guy, and his bright blonde hair is almost blinding.  I do not take notice to what he is wearing, I am so focused on his face as he strides toward me: quite serious, bordering on dour, his skin so new and flawless, like aloe straight from the plant.  He walks toward the kitchen table with a purpose, without looking at me, then as he is directly in front of me, he turns to look at me.  The gravity of this moment is not lost on me.  He looks me in the eyes, the seriousness of him slowly morphing into steadfastness, then further into assurance, and finally, the corners of his lips turn up, and he is smiling.  Not grinning, and not smiling as though at a joke, but as if he was happy in some secure knowledge.  Then he opens his mouth to speak and his tiny voice comes forth. “It’s going to be OK,” he says.  I am unable to move or talk, but I know this statement makes me cry.  He smiles even bigger now and takes one step toward me.  “It’s going to be OK”, he repeats.  Now he steps even closer, and somehow climbs up onto my lap, even though I can’t actually see my lap.  He turns his head toward me and I can see he is now smiling the smile of the joyous, the thrilled, the exalted.  His little smile seems to go all the way up to the highest tuft of sun-touched blonde hair on his eight-year-old head.   He leans in close to me and through that gaping smile he whispers, “It’s going to be OK.”

Nowadays I share a lovely apartment with my partner, the best person I have ever known.  I have everything I could ever want, both material and ethereal.  I move through every day like it was a dream, even when they are hard days.  We listen to some good music, or read some good books, or lay and talk.  And some days, while she is in another room or out on an errand, I may be sitting on the couch when a boy runs down the hallway and jumps into my lap.  This boy is really here, in the here-and-now, and he’s glorious.  His blonde hair isn’t quite as shocking, but it is bright and fine and bounces on his head when he runs, and his skin is like aloe, straight from the leaf, and his eyes are that kind of blue that are only blue in pictures; when you look right at them it’s like you see right through them.  Many days he jumps on my lap on the couch and shows me some spot he has injured in his play; a brush burn on a knee, a scrape on a wrist.  The tears in his eyes are real, teetering there in the corners, wobbly, almost-falling down the cheeks.  “Dis gonna go down to the bone?” he will ask, or “Me am gonna die?”  I kiss his boo-boos as well as I can and gather him up into my arms as tight as he’ll allow, and I whisper to him, “No, honey, it’s going to be OK.”

where the light gets in

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2015 by sethdellinger

  1.

 

I awoke slowly, groggily, dry-mouthed.  Beneath my body I could feel a bed, a nice bed, cushioney and soft, but also the obtuse crinkle of a plastic sheet.  Then came the sensation of the plastic pillowcase; and then, finally, I remembered.

I was in rehab, and this was my first moment waking up there.  I didn’t dare yet open my eyes.  Who knew what kind of world this was?  

My body felt sick, tired, disgusting.  I was shaking, but not externally.  My insides shook, as if my muscle and blood were a loosely-congealed jelly.  I was hot–I could feel my body heat transferring from my head to the plastic pillow case.  I had to cough, and vomit.  Every bad thing a body can tell you, I was being told, but only slightly, moderately, on the periphery of emergency.  I was in this facility for the treatment of alcohol dependency.  I had arrived in an incredibly drunk state, and so only remembered small pieces of the event.  I did not remember entering the room I was in, or laying on the bed.  I had memory flashes of receptionists, bathrooms, swallowing pills.  Bright fluorescent lights in drop ceilings.  A hallway.  Very little to go on.  I had, in fact, no idea how long I’d been asleep.

I became aware of what had woken me: the sounds of people talking outside my room.  Still without opening my eyes, I could tell these were people standing outdoors, by a window.  As the crow flies, they must have only been seven or eight feet away from me, but of course, they were standing outside talking, while I was laying on a bed in a room with, presumably, the shades drawn.  I felt badly the need to vomit.

With great trepidation I decided to open my eyes.  I did so very slowly, not knowing if there might be someone else in this room with me, and if there was, I might want to continue feigning sleep.  Gradually I let the light in–it hurt tremendously, giving me reason to think I’d slept for over a day.  The room came into focus. Brown wood-grain particle board closets were directly in front of me, at the foot of my single bed.  To my right, another single bed–blissfully unoccupied, the sheets and blanket meticulously made.  A brown balsa wood desk in the corner to my left, and to the far right, a small door that looked like it lead to a bathroom, and beside that door, a larger door–this one presumably the door out. Probably to the hallway that existed in a flash somewhere in my memory.

The room looked frighteningly like any of the countless dorm rooms I’d lived and partied in only a year or two before, and only half a mile away.  I’d lived in rooms just like this where the closet was full of empty beer cans and liquor bottles waiting for an opportunity to go out to the trash without getting caught.  It did not seem that long ago that I’d looked at closet doors just like this one and contemplated hiding inside it, or peeing on it, or whatever.  Now here I was in a similar but very different room.  I was the same person I’d always been, nothing had changed inside me, but suddenly here I was waking up in rehab.

The sudden knowledge of the bathroom woke up a long-dormant pain in my bladder.  With great achiness and slow care, I swung my feet out of the bed and limped my way to the small door I assumed to be the bathroom.  I became aware that the entire place smelled of medicine, like an overly-air conditioned pharmacy.  It was a sterile smell but reassuring; whatever was wrong with me, I was in a place to be fixed.  Someday the shaking might stop.

The first thing I noticed was the sink.  Not because there was anything very special about the sink itself, but because of the large red sticker attached to it, imploring residents to “wash thoroughly” in order to minimize the risk of transmitting Hepatitis.   I peed into the pearly white, larger-than-expected toilet for what seemed like ten minutes.  Relieved, I limped back out of the bathroom thinking I might sleep for another entire day.

But I became sidetracked on the way to the bed by the voices outside my window.  Who were they?  What was going on?  I waddled to the window and ever-so-slightly pried open two slats of the industrial white venetian blinds.

Outside was a large courtyard, completely enclosed on all sides by the one-story brick building which I was inhabiting.  The courtyard was large enough to house two or three full-sized trees, a gazebo, benches, and some concrete walkways.  A dozen or so people were scattered throughout the courtyard, speaking in groups, smoking cigarettes, nursing tiny Styrofoam cups with steam rolling off the tops.  They looked happy—almost like this was grade school recess or a break in a business meeting.  They were of many different ages and seemed to run the gamut on the socio-economic spectrum.  It looked like an inviting place to be, but also terrifying.  I wanted to stay alone in this room forever.  I wanted to get under the blanket where it was dark and plasticy and shake until the world ended, or my parents came and got me.  Somewhere outside these walls my friends were going to work, stopping at gas stations, watching movies in living rooms.  I could hear the chatter outside my window die down as the group was being called back inside.  This was who I had become.

 

2.

 

Today I live about forty miles from the rehab I woke up in that day, which was over ten years ago.  I live in an area roughly referred to as Central Pennsylvania, although some purists insist on calling it South Central Pennsylvania.  Neither moniker is quite accurate, but anyway. 

Most places in this world are the same, more or less, although cases for distinctions can certainly be made.  Here in Central Pennsylvania, the case for distinction starts with the city of Harrisburg.  Or, perhaps more aptly put, what the city used to be.  A city on the rise throughout the 1800s, a series of events (both controllable and uncontrollable) caused the city to begin a constant descent into mediocrity and blight much like other, larger Northern “rust belt” cities from the 1920s until present day.  Intense racial division, poor local leadership and the alluring habitability of rural areas outside the city caused an outward migration that has never fully stopped.

 

Harrisburg (and by extension, Central Pennsylvania) sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River.  Although the Susquehanna appears at first glance to be a mighty, majestic river, it is in fact the longest river in the United States that is not deep enough to allow commercial boating traffic—another contributing factor to Harrisburg’s stagnation.  The river at points nears a mile wide but is often shallow enough to walk the entire way across.  Although it factors greatly in much of America’s history—the Revolution and the founding of Mormonism, for starters—its shallow depth prevents it from achieving any great level of fame, or any truly major cities from growing near it.

 

As citizens migrated outward from Harrisburg in the early 1920s they formed a network of small towns and communities so close together and homogenous that the ones on the opposite bank of the Susquehanna are often referred to simply as the “West Shore”, as though they were one community.  These tiny towns, often quaint and artisan more than they were hardy and working-class, took their names equally from American history, Native Americans, and the local landscape.  Towns like Camp Hill, Penbrook, Paxtang, Enola, Wormleysburg—each with its own identity, history, and geography, but each in turn also related to the exodus of Harrisburg.  Camp Hill is named after a church whose congregation split into two groups—one of the “camps” held their worships on a nearby hill.  Lemoyne—which used to be named Bridgeport—is a town of four thousand people that for some reason has an intense concentration of guitar and instrument stores.  Paxtang is taken from “Peshtenk”, an English word which means “still waters”, although which still waters it was named for, we don’t know.  New Cumberland hosts a notable apple fest each year despite being relatively far from where the apples grow.  If one were to travel from each of these communities into the neighboring ones, you would notice small but not insignificant changes in elevation, a tangled network of water tributaries, bulbous outcroppings of sedimentary rock, and a collection of wildlife that includes the brown bear, the white tailed deer, the timber rattlesnake, and the turkey vulture.

All of these towns, and Harrisburg and the almost-mighty Susquehanna, are inside a valley.  The Cumberland Valley is bounded by mountains from both the Appalachian and Blue Ridge ranges.  All of the mountains are on the small side, as far as mountains go, although there are certain vistas that can be quite striking, especially in instances where the mountain ranges intersect with the river. 

Although the Valley as we know it extends for only about seventy miles (and, at its narrowest, is only twelve miles wide) the Valley is part of a much larger geographic formation in the state of Pennsylvania known as a Ridge and Valley section, a land formation over a hundred miles wide that consists of repeating north-to-south peaks and valleys, formed, again, by the Appalachians and Blue Ridges.  One can imagine (can one?) the difficulty these north-to-south peaks presented (and to a degree still present) to transportation efforts which in this state show a strong east-to-west desire.

In Pennsylvania, to the north of the Ridge and Valleys lies a vast expanse known as the Appalachian Plateau—basically a continually elevated area that looks like a mountain range but is really just high eroded sediment.  This feature extends all the way to the top of the state until it drops off into Lake Erie. 

To the south of our Cumberland Valley are the Triassic Lowlands—a small misnomer as there continue to be drastic changes in elevation throughout, but there is a distinct absence of mountains in this area, and most of the soil and structure is left over from the Triassic Period—some even from Pangea.  The lowlands continue until Pennsylvania’s small Coastal Plain on the bank of the Delaware River—which supports commercial boating into Philadelphia.

However, this is how the modern human being would experience this world: be in your house.  Travel a few feet out of your house into your car.  Turn on your car, your air conditioning (or your heat) and drive to your destination away from your house.  You will do this by navigating streets, interstates and intersections that you know by heart even though they have nothing to do with you or the land in which you live.  Arrive at your destination.  Walk a few feet from your car into your new destination.  And this is how it is everywhere now—not just in Central Pennsylvania, but everywhere.  You can move all over this country and most of the world and have a relatively changeless existence, never knowing where you are, what the place is like, what made it that way.

Sometimes our destination is in a whole separate town from where we started just a few minutes before, but the speed and ease with which we travel makes noticing these changes unnecessary.  Sometimes we drive our cars over rivers and don’t notice.  Sometimes we drive them through tunnels at the bottoms of mountains and bemoan the loss of cell phone service.  Usually we don’t know the name of the mountain we drove under.  We have no idea the struggle society went through to make such seamless east-to-west travel so unbearably easy.  We see large birds gliding in circles, distant in the sky but don’t know what they are—we don’t even know that we could know what they are, that there was a time we would have known, would have been expected to know, would have been shamed by not knowing what the enormous graceful flying meat eaters were called.  We’re unmoored, unhooked, disconnected, floating in a gel of inconsequence, we don’t know and we don’t know and we don’t know.

3.

 

My first year out of high school I went away to college–twenty minutes away. I went to a State School in the town next to us, and even though it was so close to home, my parents wanted me to live on campus so I would have the experience. I didn’t take well to the college experience at first (although later I would take to it much too well); I simply wasn’t making friends or doing the whole “college thing”. I was holing myself up in my room all week, ignoring everybody except the roommate I got stuck with, spending my nights on the phone with my girlfriend back home. On weekends, I went home and worked at McDonalds. And hung out with my real friends. And partied.

One weekend I was at a party at some kid’s parent’s house. I have no idea who the kid was, or any good recollection of who was there. I’m not even sure where it was, except that it was in a guest room above their garage. I spent much of the night at the far end of the rectangular room, beside the ping-pong table (it wasn’t in use; we were too lazy for Beer Pong) on old bench seats from the local Little League field after a dugout renovation some fifteen years prior. I was with three good friends who were still in high school, and we were ignoring most of the party.

Late into the evening, as most of the revelers had left and a dozen or so inebriated folks remained, an overweight, bearded man approached us from across the room. I had noticed him all night because he was so out of place. He was at least 28 years old, and a real Red State sort of guy. He wore a camouflage baseball cap and a red flannel shirt, and not the kind of flannel that was so popular in those days: this was the kind of flannel you wore so you could do physical labor in the cold, and it was really ugly. His voice was a thick drawl, thicker than a Pennsylvania redneck; this guy was from the South. This wasn’t a Redneck party, and it wasn’t a 28-year-old party either. In fact, it was a high school party. Even I was a little old for this party. This guy was a sore thumb.

He squeezed his way past the ping pong table and stood before us. I got ready to stand and shake his hand, introduce myself, ask him what the hell he was doing there. But before I could stand all the way he says this: “I know what you guys are.”

We all sort of chuckled, waiting for the punchline or explanation. One of us said, “What are we?”

“Fags. You’re fags, and I hate fags.”

This was shocking. It was shocking because, firstly, we were all raised rather liberal kids, by parents who thought just about everybody was OK and that everybody should be treated OK. Which is not to say that I never uttered the word fag, but we were all misguided youth who thought it was OK to slur if you didn’t mean it in your heart. And this guy obviously meant it in his heart, which was disturbing. Secondly, it shocked us because we were all rather straight, and anyone who had actually observed us throughout the party would have known that. Red Flannel’s statement clearly confused us.

We tried at first to convince him. The hostess of the party had slept with one of my friends, and an ex-girlfriend of mine was also present. We called them over to testify. But the more we tried to convince him, the angrier he got. He started to raise his voice, he started calling us more and varied names (it doesn’t take a genius, after the fact, to realize that this man was quite clearly struggling with his own hidden homosexuality, and his probable attraction to at least one of us. I wish I’d have realized it at the time; things may have ended differently). It didn’t take long for the remaining partiers to flock around us. The hostess and her friends stepped between the man and us. Of course, as soon as they took up that “we’re-stopping-a-fight” position, he took their cue and began to threaten all four of us with physical harm.

While it is true that this man could not have beaten up all four of us, he would have created one hell of a mess and more than a little pain by trying.

The ruckus lasted the better part of an hour, with Red Flannel screaming at us, everyone standing between us, the four of us on one side of the room bewildered. This variety of event didn’t happen to us. We didn’t get in fights, nor had we ever had to get out of a fight, and this made it difficult for us to remain the coolest cats in the room. It was too bizarre of a situation to know what to do. Everyone was now imploring the Red Flannel to leave. At one point, someone suggested that we leave, but Red Flannel made it clear that he would not let that happen.

Finally and somehow, the man left. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Some people laughed, some stalked around, pacing out their anger, muttering about how he had ruined an otherwise chill party. The hostess was afraid the neighbors had heard the noise and would tell the parents.

This idyll lasted only briefly, as perhaps ten minutes after he left, someone reported that he had pulled his truck up to the stairs leading down from the garage apartment–the only way out. His truck was idling. He had his parking lights on, and the glow of a cigarette could be seen behind the wheel. We let out a collective groan. We waited. Fifteen minutes later, he was still there. Our hostess was elected to go down and talk to him.

She returned moments later with the grim news: he wasn’t leaving until the fags left, and when the fags left, he was gonna kick the fag’s asses.

Suddenly and strangely the tone started to shift; although no one would say it, people were clearly beginning to resent us, and somehow blame us. With the Red Flannel no longer present to directly blame, the party was still ruined and there we were. We were quite clearly now blamed, having done absolutely nothing. Us “fags” sat ostracized in a corner while Hostess and Friends tried to figure out what to do. Do they call the cops? Do we wait it out? And somewhere in their subconscious–in that Lord of the Flies part of the brain–I know they had a third option: do we sacrifice them?

The uncertainty seemed to last forever, but in reality it was only about half an hour. The tension in the room was broken by a frightening smash, followed by even louder splintering and cracking noises. Everyone ran to the door, the gray dawn sky and birdsong of the morning shocking us all. And then even more shock, as we saw the Red Flannel’s taillights driving away, faster than a gunshot down the curvy country road, and directly below us the shattered remnants of the wooden steps leading down from the room we were in. He had smashed into them with his truck, rendering most of the lower half useless lumber, and severing the top half from its landing. The top half of the stairs now hung from the building by a few weakened planks, swinging slowly in decreasing circles.

Three days later, the property damage was listed officially as the work of a hit-and-run driver, who was never caught.

 

4.

 

 

A man turns a forty-year-old black plastic knob on his forty-year-old faded white kitchen stove in Pennsport, Philadelphia.  Some mechanism inside the machine clicks repeatedly, while nothing appears to happen.  Then suddenly a small, blue flame appears below the ancient burner plate.  A man has turned a knob and a flame has quietly and simply come out of the machine.  The man will put a metal pot overtop of the flame, add water to the pot as well as other human food products and create a meal suitable to his human palette, all made possible by that quiet little simple flame.  For this service the man will pay about $30 a month, made out on paper checks and dropped in blue mailboxes.  The man does all this, and eats his food, and pays the people for their services, but he has no idea what is happening, how any of it happens.  In fact, he has such an absence of knowledge about it all, he doesn’t realize he knows next to nothing.

Outside the man’s house, if one were to travel mostly south, but a little east, for just a few miles—really just about a mile and a half, you would encounter Passyunk Avenue, a street that cuts unexpectedly diagonally across the city’s otherwise quite simple and helpful grid pattern.  Turning left onto Passyunk Avenue, you would immediately be confronted by a large but not imposing bridge, what is known in bridge parlance as a double-leaf bascule bridge, which is fancy terminology for a drawbridge, but one that has two moveable sections instead of one.  The Passyunk Avenue Bridge, as it is called, was completed in 1983 and is made almost entirely of steel and concrete, although the pedestrian walkways on either side have sections made of cast iron.  The bridge crosses the Schuylkill River, the smaller of the two rivers that border Philadelphia, but alas, like even the smallest river, we still need a bridge to cross it.  The Passyunk Avenue Bridge had to be built as a double-leaf bascule bridge to accommodate the heavy amount of shipping traffic that passes through the area due to the proximity of the Philadelphia Gas Works.

The Gas Works covers a sprawling hundred acres just outside of the city.  This treeless, brown stretch of flatland right beside the Passyunk Avenue Bridge and sidling the muddy shores of the Schuylkill is a mostly ignored eyesore, one motorists tend to not notice that they don’t even notice it.  The long wide expanse is brown dotted with yellows and reds, criss-crossed by pipes of all sizes, with seemingly-random outcroppings of unidentifiable structures, metal winged Eiffels growing out of the mud.  The flat mechanical carnage stretches as far as the eye can see, until it hits the Philadelphia city skyline; a striking vista indeed.

Most of these multi-colored pipes contain natural gas, which in turn is a “fossil fuel”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Energy we obtain from extraordinarily old things, which in turn got their energy, during their day, from our sun, which is still around.  We dig them up and squeeze our sun’s energy back out of them, thousands and thousands of years later.  The Philadelphia Gas Works doesn’t talk much about where it gets its gas, but for the most part, it isn’t drilled here, although it certainly has been.  Now it is mostly shipped here in those huge boats that go under the Passyunk Avenue Bridge.  But see, here’s where it gets interesting: this energy from the sun was being stored in all these old plants and animals for eons under the ground.  Then we found it (probably in what is known as the Marcellus Shale) and we went to great lengths to get it out of there.  We’ve got to bust open the rocks that it is in, then we’ve got to shore up the cavity we created in the ground so that the gas stays there until we can get it.  Then we have to remove all the impurities from it, so it can be used for things like cooking macaroni and cheese.  These impurities include water; gotta get all the water and other gunk outta there.  But see, if you’re trying to transport natural gas very far, it’s pretty inconvenient to do it in a gas form.  If you can’t get it there in a pipeline (those pipelines only go so far) and you have to send it in, say, a boat, you have to now liquefy the gas.  So we bust up the ground to get it out, then we turn it into liquid and put it in a boat.  We do that by making the gas very cold.  Now this boat chug-a-lugs down the Schuylkill to the Philadelphia Gas Works and huge pipes are hooked up to the belly of the boat and all the really cold liquid gas is pumped into huge tanks.  Then there are other pipes that go from those huge tanks to what the Philadelphia Gas Works really are: the regasification plant.  We warm it back up and make it a gas again.  Then we shoot that gas out into a series of progressively smaller pipes that stretch out in grids that sometimes cover hundreds of miles, until they are in really little pipes that, believe it or not, are actually connected to your house! Then somebody who drops $30 checks into the mail every month decides they want to cook a stew, or maybe do some laundry.  And miraculously, the little blue flame shoots out.

Now this man standing here in Pennsport, he doesn’t know any of this.  And if you were to start telling him about it, he may interrupt you and ask you why it should matter to him.  After all, he’s got his gas, he pays his bill, and everyone doesn’t have to know everything, right?  That’s why there are specialists.  But if you started asking him other questions, about other parts of the city and world around him, you and he might find he continues to know next to nothing about his environment.

Why are the sidewalks in his neighborhood a certain width?  And different widths in other neighborhoods?  Why are the blocks in his neighborhood so long?  Why are they shorter elsewhere? How might these seemingly small details affect his quality of living?  Ask this man what he knows about train traffic through the city, or the history of invasive plant species in Philadelphia.  He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t see why he should.  He is content to go to work and come back home and play with his things but the larger scope of the world and environment he lives in are completely lost to him; furthermore there is no compelling reason for him to change this.

This is the exact same thing that’s been said about kids in the country for a generation now, that they’ve lost touch with their environment.  There isn’t that big of a difference between living in the country and living in the city.  In rural areas people have become disconnected from the literal environment, in the cities it is our environment we’ve lost, but it’s all part of the same big moving parts.

In the country, there’s a difference between wildness and wilderness.  Wilderness is what people settle for now when they think they are seeing nature.  They walk on well-worn paths, drive their cars through parks, take tours.  That’s wilderness, but there’s nothing wild about it.  Wildness is self-willed, autonomous, self-organized.  It is the opposite of controlled.  It exists on all sorts of scales.  You can see wildness in the movement of glaciers, or in the star-forming regions of the Orion Nebula.  Wildness is everywhere.  It starts with microscopic particles and it goes more than 13 billion light-years into the cosmos.  It’s in the soil and in the air, it’s on our hands, in our immune systems, in our lungs.  We breathe and wildness comes in—we can’t control it.  And yet, nowadays, almost nobody wants anything to do with that aspect of the world, the real, the wild aspect.  You can live in San Francisco, ride a Google bus to work, stare at a screen, come home, stare at a screen, repeat repeat repeat and never see an ounce of wildness at any scale, but do you know how close whales live to San Francisco?  And giant Redwoods?  There is wildness there to be seen, not just the microbes in your lungs, but at a scale that can impress a human, but still it is screen screen screen, nobody glancing around them.  We are hive creatures now, far more so than in generations past, fiercely attached to our social network, which has become part of our identity.  Nature is a movie that goes by outside the car window.  And along with nature, the real world, the knowledge of the functions of the real world.

In the city, bureaucracy and layers of time and history stand in for the wildness that (only seemingly) gets lost in a metropolis.  Instead of wondering about falcons and sediment layers we can instead pick apart the mystifying nature of zoning ordinances, inter-departmental transportation squabbles, and the righteousness of green space allocation.  But we don’t, almost nobody does.  So it is that no matter where we live, we’re just lost in a machine, or parts in a machine, not knowing what function we serve, not knowing where the machine is going, what we’re really doing.  Turning on switches and turning knobs, putting on clothes we know nothing about to walk to stores we don’t remotely understand, living lives blindly, blindly, trusting in some overarching system to make sure we all get to some kind of finish line on time.

The man in Pennsport stands in front of his stove and makes a delicious meal overtop of his blue flame, eats it and loves it and gets a full belly while watching television, the screen’s glow not all that different from that blue flame, wherever it comes from.

 

 5.

 

In the winter, Erie, Pennsylvania is a cold, desolate, sometimes dangerous place. It’s not the ideal place to live alone with no friends or relatives within a five-hour drive of you. It snows almost all the damn time, and it’s so cold, and the wind just races across the lake, whether it’s the summer or the winter. Whether the lake is frozen or open, it is seven miles wide, and there is nothing to stop the wind. On one particular winter morning, I rose to an early alarm clock, to work the morning shift at the restaurant where I was a manager. Our day started pretty early, and it’s always hard to get up, but especially when it’s dark outside, and the wind howls like a coyote, and you know there’s snow out there, and maybe more on the way, and maybe more falling even right then. I crawled out of bed, put on my work outfit, poked my head through the blinds, and started my car with my remote start, one of my most beloved modern amenities. Five minutes later I was down there to hop in, excited about the warm inside of my car. It had snowed the night before, but not a whole lot, maybe four or five inches, which isn’t very much when you’re living in Erie. But it was just one of those things, one of those moments where your car and the tires are sitting just right, or just wrong, and despite the fact that you see no perfect reason why, your car is stuck. I had not left myself a whole lot of extra time to get to work, and I was in quite a bind. Being late is sometimes easier than others in that line of work, and I can’t remember the circumstances now, but I do know that I absolutely had to be there on time that day, and my car being stuck put me in a moment of desperation. With nobody to call – not even any small friends or acquaintances, really nobody that I knew – I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I was out of my car, looking all around it, shoveling the snow out from the tires as best I could, trying to rock it a little bit. All the small things one can do by yourself to get your car unstuck, but there’s only so much of that. Then, in the predawn darkness I saw approaching a young man walking down the center of the street that I lived on. I recognized the speed with which he walked and the direction he was going as a man heading to catch a bus. Yes, there were buses, but I had never even looked into that. As he came to pass me I walked onto the street, and sent to him, “Hey man! Hi!  Hey man, excuse me!  I’m in a real bind here, my car is stuck and I really need to get to work.  I’m really screwed here.  Can you help me push it out?”

He stood still and wooden, looking at me through my pleading screed.  After a pause, he said, “But, see, I’m on the way to catch my bus to go to work myself.  What if this makes me late?”

This was one of those very touchy moments in life for me.  I absolutely needed this guy to help me.  But he had a point and I knew it.  Why should he be late to work simply so I could be on time?  I was sure if he helped me, the car could come out quickly and we’d both be on time, but time was crunched so badly, there wasn’t even the moment needed to explain this.  I analyzed my chances, as well as the look of the kid, and rolled the dice.  I said this:

“That’s a chance you’ll just have to take.”

 

6.

Sometimes when driving, or riding the train, or walking around in some park, I will try to get an image in my head of what the land around me would have looked like four hundred years ago.  The same hills, the same landscape, but in my mind I’ll cover it in nothing and wonder what it was like to be the first person to chance upon it.  This is always useless to me.  There is so much wonder in this world, but I always have trouble getting past our influence, our disasters and clumsy systems.  And even in those places where there is some real beauty, like over at Bartram’s Gardens, or up on Presque Isle, or down the road on the Appalachian Trail, all I have to do is take one look at the skyline in the distance, or the cement path I’m walking on, or hear the sound of the Honda hatchback blaring through the trees, and I am out of the tenuous illusion and coldly back in reality.

We are constantly tethered to some safety line.  There is always a lantern, or a map, or a screen, or a cell phone.  These things guarantee that whatever experience we’re having is just an attempt at connecting with something foreign and old, that it’s not real, no matter how real it looks.  We’ve sketched out a new world over the old, and they are in two separate universes; the old is lost despite the remnants we see of it every day.  If properly prepared, one could live entire decades indoors, in a world of their own creation.

Before I had a family I used to stay indoors for a day or two at a time, talking to no one and doing nothing of value.  Once I did go outside after a long stretch like that, it still felt fake, like some slide in front of my eyes.  At a certain point, I’d have to tell myself, This is actually real and I am actually here, that dog or building or mountain range in the distance is a real thing inhabiting the same space that I am.  I think that must be a very modern sensation, that of having to convince oneself of reality.

7.

 

 

My father was born into orchard country. Nestled deep in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the South Mountain.  His youngest years were spent in rolling hills crowded by apple trees, which Mexican immigrants picked nearly year-round.  There were Mexican restaurants around unassuming bends in the country roads; I never saw them but I can imagine they might have looked out of place, if one stopped to think about them.  Dad told me a story once about a fancy-looking house that sat at the bottom of a gulley and was surrounded by Red Delicious trees.  I saw the house myself—it’s still there.  It looks like a small but stately plantation.  When Dad was a boy, the house had an in-ground swimming pool, which was quite a luxury in those days, and they’d let him and his friends swim there occasionally.  One Halloween, he was trick-or-treating and the family gave all the boys little pop guns—plastic guns that shot a cork out of a barrel.  He thought they must be rich.  He never forgot it.  He remembers it like it was yesterday.  My mother was born a mere 25 miles away, in a vanishingly small town surrounded by cow pastures, clumps of trees, and lean-to outbuildings.  Farm country.  In fact, she was born on a farm—a working farm, and she grew up doing the kinds of things you might imagine: collecting eggs from innocent chickens, watching her father and brothers shear sheep, waking up at the crack of dawn. Her dream as a little girl was to somehow, someway, move to the nearby small town and help her uncle run a pharmacy he owned there.  She pictured herself sweeping the floor, stocking the shelves, maybe keeping the books.  To her, this was a version of glamour.  Her family would take in kids from “the city” who needed places to stay; Fresh Air Kids, they called them.  Sometimes my mom’s country family swelled to great numbers; a surprising-looking bunch, I’m sure.  My genes—whatever they are—are a swirl of them.  I’ve got orchards in my blood, and my skeleton is a farm.

As a young child, I didn’t know much about my parents or where I’d come from. It wasn’t an issue I pondered.  I knew that I certainly felt like me.  I knew I liked to mostly not talk about what I felt inside.  I knew I liked drawing things, and that I sure did love the outdoors.  I liked playing with small boats in the bathtub, and Matchbox cars in the sandbox, and I hated going to sleep, and the dark scared me.  There were two neighbors who lived two doors down from us—at the time it felt far away, but it is literally just thirty yards, I just looked at it not six months ago—who must have been 50 years old at the time.  I considered them my best friends, although to them I must have seemed like a just occasional little person who happened by.  I liked talking to them and imagining what their grown-up lives were like inside that big red brick house—what the kitchen looked like, what they ate for dinner.  I miss them.  They’re dead now.

I was a fairly typical teenager. I was mostly about having fun; everything was a joke.  I could be cruel.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes and experimented with just about anything that could be experimented with.  I talked a lot.  I thought I was important and smart.  I hid secret desires and interests: poetry, philosophy, sexual confusion, the occult.  I got angry, I got sad, I read classic science fiction novels late at night in my bedroom with the door locked.  Women started to like me and it took me a long time to figure out what to do about it; when I did figure it out I tried very hard to be a “good guy” but still…I often failed.  I liked comic books, American Gladiators, and MTV.  Late in my teens I discovered Tumbling Run, a long hiking trail in the nearby Appalachians that follows a truly adorable stream, which is a trickle at the trail head and as you climb higher becomes a rushing set of falls and deep, clear pools.  I would hike it by myself, find perches away from the trail, pull out a notebook and write poems tailored after E.E. Cummings.  They were full of angst and love and fear.  I thought Tumbling Run would be like my Walden Pond, but mostly, I just forgot about it.

As a young man I encountered my problems: alcoholism and depression. But those weren’t the only defining elements of my life.  As I moved into adulthood I moved away from American Gladiators and even further from the tiny boats in the bathtub.  There were surface changes, like a deeper attraction to poetry and literature and “serious films”, but I changed for real, too.  I got angry.  Angry at everything.  I became of a mind that to judge everyone as harshly and vocally as possible was actually a good trait to have.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes, often two packs a day.  I was still funny, but now with more sarcasm and less joy.  I liked staying awake until the sunrise, never cleaning my car, and throbbing rock and roll.  I hated being alive.

After young adulthood up until this moment (what we shall refer to as life) I’ve just kept on changing.  There are always the obvious, cosmetic alterations: a sudden liking for big band music and Cary Grant films, corduroy jackets and Florsheim loafers, art museum memberships and mini-figurines of Felix Mendelssohn.  But also sea changes, but so fast; one moment I don’t want to talk to people at all, the next I enjoy the communion of strangers.  Seemingly one moment, an actual pastime of mine is driving my car through the country at night, the windows down, blasting music from my CD player, smoking cigarettes. A few nights ago I walked home through the city, listening to my music in my headphones, stopping to read the menu in a restaurant hoping there were vegetarian options. One moment I’m vehemently opposed to sports, the next I’m at an NFL game.

A month or so ago, I had breakfast with two of my oldest, dearest friends.  They looked the same as they always had, as I’m sure I did, and the little dirt-hole diner we ate in was the same as always, and the streets and parking lots were the same as they always were, when I was spending all my days there.  But having been largely gone from the area for five years, it all felt so different, so foreign.  Was that actually me that had lived here, had called these places home, these friends familiar?  Or was it a dream had by a being who calls himself me?  After breakfast one of the friends was driving me to my dad’s house, and as I climbed in his car I was overcome with a strange sensation. When I settled into the passenger seat I realized this was the car of a very serious cigarette smoker; ashes, crumpled empty packs everywhere, the stale pall of smoke infusing the upholstery.  And it looked like many cars I had in my day: old drink cups on the floor, change everywhere, ATM receipts and food wrappers.  I wasn’t grossed out; I felt oddly at home.  It had just been so long since that had been me.  It was like time travel.

If I’m able to look directly at the thought long enough, it becomes very clear that the notion of me doesn’t exist.  I’m a collection of moments, an intricate study in cause-and-effect.  I am the orchard, and the farm, and the boats in the bathtub, and the throbbing rock and roll, and walking home through the city last night.  I am time itself.  I’m not me.

 

8.

 

Somewhere everywhere bakers are opening up their shops. The tall commercial ovens click on with whirrs of electricity and gas. The little rooms get stifling and smell of yeast and flour. Today will be a ten or twelve hour shift. They will sweat through their white aprons and go home to unread newspapers. In other cities police officers are rolling out of bed, pulling their crisp uniforms on, fastening the large utility belt in the darkness of their century-old foyer while their family sleeps. The sun peeks over the rooftops and flowers open their petals in their pots along the sides of buildings. Third graders are walking to school wearing raincoats and backpacks and talking about pop singers. They have cell phones and they look up videos as they walk. The sunlight touches their necks and their tiny hairs stand up but nobody notices. A woman who works in a city newsstand arrives to open for the day. She enters through a side door and is alone in the tiny building, darkened still except for a small crack in the still-unopened front window where the light gets in. After taking her coat off, she walks outside, fumbles with the frigid padlock until finally the metal window slides open. It’s the loudest noise on the street yet this morning. Dozens of people are stepping onto an escalator. They avoid eye contact, they look at their phones, they pretend to be in a hurry. They wait on platforms, in hangars, on benches, in bus shelters, lines for elevators, by curbs for cabs, people are waiting. A man alone in a movie theater remembers an ex-lover while watching the Coming Attractions. For a moment he can’t remember what movie he came to see. At a grocery store a woman tries to decide which peach is best for her to buy and in the process she ruins five peaches. Now she can’t even remember if she planned on buying peaches today, and for a moment she wonders how there are this many peaches in the grocery store in the middle of winter, and she tries to recall if she’s ever seen a peach tree, or picked a peach, but she can’t remember, can’t remember, and now she’s thinking of her son away in college but he doesn’t like peaches either. All everywhere people are stuck at traffic signals on streets they don’t know the names of. They pass the minutes listening to talk radio coming from signals they don’t understand, from places they’ve never been, spoken by people they’ll never know. Their internal combustion engines idle beneath them-the sparks and fuel commingling to create a low-key contained continuous explosion. The light turns green and they’re off again to someplace else. An elderly man on a scaffolding nestled against a house hammers nails into shingling, and he will do it all day, all day, and more tomorrow. Grown people are everywhere furiously scribbling notes and typing e-mails and hanging Post-Its and setting reminders—there are so many things to do and to say and remember. A family of four is selling fresh fish in tables filled with ice by the side of the street. The kids should be in school but nobody seems to notice or think to say anything. The fish’s eyes are glassy and fogged up but people still buy them anyway, will still cook and eat them anyway, these hundreds of miles from the ocean. Mail is dropped through slots in doors. Squirrels pause on telephone wires, turning nuts around rapidly in their tiny hands. Landline phones ring in empty rooms and the neighbors can hear it, they can hear it, but they just have to put up with it. Waterfalls just keep insistently sliding over the cliffs, pounding the complacent ground beneath them and digging deeper and deeper holes. Somewhere deep, magma moves, hisses, is still. The tectonic plates are pushing the ground under our feet up into new mountains right now, right now, as we get onto this escalator, it is happening, the earth is forming new things beneath us right now as we ride the escalator, looking at our phones, it always has been doing this and it won’t stop until the sun, dying, swallows the whole planet. But smile anyway, you damned fools, and feel the hairs on your neck stand up in the morning sun, because there is nothing else, nothing else at all.

 

 

 

 

Dance

Posted in My Poetry with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by sethdellinger

In all these tiny useless shops, with all this
torn and tattered furniture and too-small coats and
half-working vacuum cleaners, I have never come across
a velvety orangeish curtain like the one we hung
in the living room on Big Spring Avenue; it was
wide and garish like a Lady Pope’s vestments
and it kept the heat from pouring down between the
hardwood floor slats into the musty dirt basement;
likewise, in none of these big city shops have I ever
danced around with a cocker spaniel like I did
with ours–Cocoa–one bright Saturday morning
when I was all alone with her.  I did the funny dance I
only ever did with Cocoa, one hand in my armpit,
jumping on one foot, the sound of my skin half-drum,
half-fart, the world at last and for a moment a perfect
sun-filled room, a dappled meadow, Cocoa just
staring with all-black eyes, shimmying just to
get out of my way, me whirling and singing a song
I can’t recall, then laughing and laughing in the
sun beaming through the windows, falling down
with her, as if we were dying, as if we could
never stop–in 1984, in Newville Pennsylvania–
beautiful strange small-town Newville,
home of Laughlin Mill and the Bulldogs–
a hundred miles and thirty years away from
this dingy city thrift store I stand in, remembering
the orangey curtain and the drafty floors and the
sweet temperamental dog so confused with her
round voids of eyes, she’s gone now, so gone even
her dust is gone, oh giant universe, oh wild universe!

Snow Angels in the High Grass

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2014 by sethdellinger

Once, many moons ago, I spent a week living on the couch of some people I barely knew in a small town I had never spent much time in, with too little money and nothing to slow a march of days that seemed to speed by while also being interminably long.  It was September, and each morning and late afternoon a wind would crawl down from the sloping Appalachians and swirl through the wide valley, sifting and reshaping the clouds.  By early afternoon, the sun would begin to set, the lights of distant truck stops making shadows of the nearby hills.

I spent much of the week walking through the unfamiliar neighboorhood, trying to imagine what it would be like to make a life there, behind that fence, in that shed, down that crumbling walkway.  This wasn’t an unusual pursuit, since at the time I was a stranger to adult life everywhere I went, no matter where I laid my head at night.

I had come to this temporary situation after failing to please the last people I had been staying with, and I had come to those folks after failing to please the people before them.  I was now occupying one corner of a dingy living room in a second story efficiency that smelled like dogs despite there being no dogs.  I followed the kind of schedule only the truly underemployed or severely addicted can devise.  Each morning, I would walk to the corner greasy diner that had become my office.  In the evenings I would wander to the pond on the outskirts of town and read. In the evenings I’d sit in the silent dark and write down individual titles to my sleeping dreams from the night before, scribbling details on the insides of book covers and the backs of ATM receipts.

The days came and went like half-remembered tremors.  It got uncharacteristically warm for a few days.  I laid down in the thigh-high grass in a farmer’s field one afternoon and pretended to make a snow angel, but nothing happened.  I remember the buzzing of the insects, and the precise smell, and the feel of the heat on my face which made my outside feel the opposite of my inside, which was dark, frigid, and dying.

It would be interesting, if someone were to make a movie about my life, if they just made it of this single, listless, seamlessly depressing week, leaving the viewer to wonder what could possibly have come before, and be anxious for what was to come after, and then the credits roll, and they never know.  Just leave them with the image of this drunk, solitary, silent 22-year-old, making snow angels in the high grass.

Where Did You Go, Where Have You Been?

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2014 by sethdellinger

Where did you go, the you that was there before?  The you that I tried so hard to be like?  You’ve settled in now, haven’t you?  Settled in for weekdays, Pampers, “the grind”.  You’ve all-but disappeared into it.  And that’s fine.  So have I, in my own way.  I look at the cubicle-dwellers, the 9-to-5ers, the mortgagers with judgment.  I judge them for a life spent in the cattle chute, but I’m the same, in my own way.  I wake up to an alarm five days a week, dash my utility bills off monthly in tidy little envelopes, take extra long showers and even bubble baths to de-stress from the rigors of a world I can’t even begin to understand.  I’m in the grind, too, in my own version of a cattle chute.  You were beautiful once, even more than you are now, supple like sand underfoot right after the wave withdraws, and I’ve never been a model but I had that nice little six-pack of abs and that 90s-era skater hair.  Who could forget the smell of your own hair in my face, your feet akimbo in the air.  We must have been dank and gorgeous like John Sloan’s Wet Night on the Bowery, everything akimbo in the air and musty and frivolous.  But who could look back and want that time again?  There was so much pain and we didn’t know a damn thing.  Who wants to not know a damn thing?  But then we wake up in this world, in this present-tense, and wonder where our beauty escaped to.  How did it siphon off?  We’re always so safe here, so comfortable.  When was the last time you felt real danger?  It is important to feel real danger.  What proof have you that you are alive?  What new horizon can you actually imagine, aside from the top of your stairs, or the local pizza parlor?  Dammit we were gorgeous but now it’s just about not forgetting umbrellas and digging out of debt.  Who ever heard of digging out of debt?  Does the field mouse understand what an interest rate is?  How about the barn owl, how much does it know about 401(k)’s?  What in the world is going on here?  What does any of this have to do with living?  Remember once, you and I were racing each other back and forth through my parents’ front yard–I guess it would have been my front yard, then, too.  And it kept bothering me when you would beat me because I was young and an idiot and full of the uncertainty of a scared animal.  I hated that you beat me again and again but I tried not to show it.  Then we laid in the grass and kissed deeply and for a long time, everything about our bodies sweet like warm milk just out of a cow’s insides.  Then we laid there and looked into the blazing-bright sky and, as young people are known to do, talked about the clouds, and what they looked like, and what held them there.  And then I asked you, Am I the funniest person you know?  I needed you to say yes to that, without any pause, but you didn’t say yes, you were honest, and it killed me inside.  Oh to be that young when such a small thing mattered so much.  Who wouldn’t love to hear, nowadays, near the midpoint of things, that you were the third funniest person you had ever met.  What a compliment that seems now!  These bits of personal fire are rare now, rare like two sweet bodies laying in the country grass, rare like paid-off debt.  Down the chute, down the chute, we all just keep going down the chute.  And what can we do?  Try and hop off?  What are the options?  Become a vagabond, wander the cities and towns, begging for whatever work there is and move on, like Richard Kimble searching for that one-armed man?  Or move to some commune–assuming they still exist–and paint or grow potatoes but also share your washcloth and help raise other peoples’ bratty kids?  No thanks.  The cattle chute’s the only way to go and still have your own place to poop every day, and there are so few comforts in this animal life as it is, you’ve got to keep the ones you’re able to find.  So slide, slide, slide we will.  But damn if one doesn’t miss the days before you knew you were on the cattle chute, the days with your hair in my face, where did you go, where have you been?

Speed Dial

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by sethdellinger

Just a few minutes ago, I went into my basement searching for a specific book which I had not heretofore been keeping upstairs.  I had no idea where it was.  While searching for it, I opened a bunch of boxes that I probably hadn’t properly explored in years…stuff I just keep lugging with me from move to move.  In one, I came across an old cigar box that I had entirely forgotten about.  This is it:

phone1

 

This box is the earliest version of boxes I have today, in which I keep just about everything…tickets, programs, invitations, etc.  Well there were things in this cigar box that just blew me away!  Things I have ZERO memory of keeping, and I have no idea what made me think of keeping them at the time, but now they are incredible to see…old paychecks, school class schedules, appointment cards, etc. (And, paul, I found the ticket stubs to the two Seven Mary Three shows we saw together!)  Anyway, most of it will be only interesting to me, but I might post some of it here from time to time, as it suits me.  But this one thing seemed worth posting now.  Here is the little card that was on the phone in my bedroom in high school that showed what I had set as speed dials…I couldn’t help but post this and then tag the people who appear on it (those who I am in contact with on Facebook)…what an interesting snapshot of an era for me.  And how interesting that I had the movies on speed dial even then (it’s hard to read, but #8 says “Movies”) And my grandma? (number “zero” says “Gram A.”)

phone

When Time Glides Up Next To You

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , on April 7, 2014 by sethdellinger

The quality of the air in the house right now reminds me of something distinct, something almost-knowable, lost to years or almost lost, right there on the edge of words, and as I’m about to give up and turn from this, it comes to me.  It is waking up in the early morning hours to leave with my family for vacation.  This event I have not remembered for many years.  We used to wake up very early in the mornings for our yearly trips to the beach.  How early we woke up, I can no longer be sure.  It was dark out.  Waking up when it is still dark out becomes, of course, a matter of regularity in adult life, but as a child this seems like as early as is humanly possible.  It seemed we must have been the only people awake at all in the whole of the world.

I have no specific memories of these once-yearly times.  No dialogue or mental snapshots, just a feeling, a sensation, bursts of color and light and the smell of my sister’s bedroom which was next door to mine and the green of the bathroom walls and the still-new taste of toothpaste and the sound of stillness.  These are the only times—or at least some of the only times—our whole family is together at this time of day, and during which we are all freshly awoken and of unified purpose, and there is no television, or radio, just some groggy chatter, last minute suitcase-sitting-on, blowdryers and maybe the smell of a curling iron.  We are excited to leave for vacation but we are tired.

I do not know why the air and sound in my house just now should remind me so clearly of these seemingly fleeting moments, or why they should seem suddenly laden with importance, but, there it is.  Again and again I can sense those moments in that old yellow house as if they were right here with me, hiding around a corner, or tucked into one of these seconds, hiding in the air—as though time had been folded like a dog-eared page in a book and one of those early vacation mornings were pressed right up against me, just waiting for me to leap across the page right back into it.

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