December 24, 2013

Je bricole


“So, you ride too?”

This just after I’ve told the story of the last time I fell off a horse to a bunch of professional riders. My rambunctious pony had decided that it was a good day to gallop out of formation and shake me off while he was at it. My stirrup got detached from the saddle, my hand got caught in the reins and I ended up with my arm in a cast and a nice black eye from one of his back hooves. Luckily for me, ponies don’t wear shoes. And I got a month of not having to write any notes or homework in school. Score.

“Um, no, I was ten when this happened.”

“Hey Chris, do you still sing?”

“Um, not really, I stopped taking lessons like thirteen years ago.”

Not that ships and sailors aren’t sexy, but I had to wonder: I used to be this creative, passionate amateur, dabbling in all sorts of things. When exactly did I turn into a Fachidiot of academia and translation? And how beautiful that people still associated me with athletic and creative endeavors, even though I abandoned them decades ago.

And then it arrived. My new joy.

Me: “Honey, I think I am going to take up F L A M E N C O.”

Murdoc: “Come again?” [he actually said something else but I’m censoring it]

Me: “Yeah, I’m an angry little woman stamping my feet all the time as it is. Don’t you think it would be perfect for my character?”

Murdoc: “Well if you’ve put it that way, yes.”

 
So, yes. I have been dancing.


Twice a week I pack a duffel bag with shoes, skirt, water bottle, leg warmers and other dancer paraphernalia. We practise braceos, marcajes, taconeos. We do ballet. We do the tangos choreography for fun and the fandangos for keeps – we are performing it in February [hyperventilation, thy name is moi]. We laugh our asses off and get yelled at. We do balance exercises in animal slippers. Forget the cheap loud celebrations of soccer chants and French matadors: the olé is something you slip in huskily between steps, a bridge between pleasures, an indication that the fun has only just begun. Planta, tacón, gólpes. Planta, tacón, gólpes. Faster. Keep the beat.


I thought you had to be three years old and bendy to do turnouts and grand pliés. You don’t. I thought my bad posture and nonexisting abs would get in the way. They did. I am inherently musical but have never trained professionally. The newly self-aware middle-aged skinsuit has its limits, its knots, traumas and inhibitions. But the body is such a grateful little instrument. And there is that moment when, with the help of a broomstick, you learn how to bend from the rib and not the waist. When that attitude comes out just right, knees open, feet brushing through the first position, coupled with perfect floreos and a flick of the chin. When compáses stop being something you count, but just dance instead. When you feel your body firming up from the inside, wrapping tighter around itself. The gym makes you bulgy. Dancing makes you spindly. Look Ma, I’m an athlete now. I give the world attitude with a sweep of my skirt. Bam.


It is pure yang. Not everyone would agree. There are many different styles and incredible dancers out there, some very feminine, and I’ll be damned if Eduardo Guerrero isn’t one androgynous little Gitano. But it is pure yang. You have to be soft and explosive at any single time, firm and limber in the same motion, tempered yet ready to pounce. If you appear light or gentle, it is because the yang has allowed it. It is a masculine kind of elegance.


Our bailaor has this down to a T. It is enchanting to watch him move. He does with the body what I do with language. He can do the same braceo in three different ways, and you will be able to tell which one is tangos, which fandangos, and which soleá. He can repeat your mistakes effortlessly, with just a sprinkle of caricature on top, so that you can see what you’re doing wrong. Dancing is always a little schizophrenic, he says. You’re always imagining resistance where there is none.


A few years ago I saw a documentary about the former Formula One champion, Alain Prost. After retiring from professional racing, he found an amateurish kind of pleasure in cycling. There was a scene in his garage, him fiddling with wrenches, bike wheels hanging on the walls, spare parts all over the place. He seemed no less devoted to cycling than he had been to car racing, but he was more playful. Je bricole, he said with a smile.


I tinker.
 
 
 
Carmen Amaya
 
 
 

December 16, 2013

It's yours.





I don't know if you've noticed, but after a wee bit of a hiatus, my man has started writing again. And I am so proud that I just had to share it here. The post that follows below is meant to be read with his "Merry Fucking Christmas" (don't you love it already?). We didn't exactly write them together, mine was more of a response to his, so please read that one first. How many installments of long-distance amour can one write? I guess we'll have to wait and see, because there is no breaking point for a good love.


_______________________________






There are three clocks and two watches in my bedroom. Only one of the clocks ticks. The rest are silent.

He heard my voice before he knew what I looked like. It was against the background of a ticking clock and images from another life. He fell deeper in love.

 

A hundred and sixty-nine days since we last slept in the same bed.

Fifty-three days since his birthday.

Thirty-eight till mine.
 

It is two in the morning, the clock ticks in my bedroom somewhere across town. I am standing on the kerb, dressed in lucid untipsiness, scanning people and cabs. It’s happy drunks tonight, no bad vibes or danger for a single woman returning home in the middle of the night. Friends have left and will check up on me later. For a moment, a sense of entitlement overwhelms my privileged heart: shouldn’t someone, a loved one, be coming to pick me up?

Baby girl, love isn’t logistics. And you are not a puppy but a Rottweiler in her prime who can get her sweet ass home. Friends don’t owe you pity and the world is paying you a compliment by letting you take care of yourself.

 

Seven hundred and thirty-nine letters.

We are tied together by invisible strings, reaching across the ocean. When he twitches, I move. When I hurt, he feels it.
 

It is two in the morning and I am standing on the kerb. I feel like I am being steeped in cold, starting with my toes and moving further up. It is gradual, irrevocable and about to completely take over my body. Some people are attracted to Alaska, or Italy, or the Moon. I was born in French Polynesia lifetimes ago. I walk with grains of beach between my toes, quiet flaneuse born to be a taboo kanaka, to live in the space between, to connect the unconnectable all around and across.

The man can fucking write, I think as I rub my legs together in third position, cold and horny. His letters seduce me anew every time; his blog posts are familiar rooms, fireplaces, paintings, armchairs where I make myself at home. Sometimes he tells me the same stories all over again, and I listen. I never want to stop listening. I take a moment to close my eyes and compose my next letter.

 

I will always want to write to you. Always.

 

Four hundred and ninety-one days since we first kissed.
 

I tried writing about that kiss. Several times. And scratched every time. Perhaps I will get it right some day. Perhaps it is one of those things that cannot ever be written.

I will be in bed by three. He will be at choir practice, leading the lost boys home. We will chase each other across time zones. He will write to me while I sleep. I will respond before he wakes up.

My body will convulse under the covers. No longer sleeping but not fully awake either, I feel my transoceanic strings tugging. My seat of power is deep in my belly, but this I feel in my solar plexus. It is him. He is writing, calling. I curl up underneath the sheets, collecting myself around him.

I hover over the house that is my castle, where I am present only in voice now, and the regalia I left behind. I find him over the telescope, scheming and aching, and wrap myself around him.


Lock the door and pull up the drawbridge if you wish, honey.

You are King.

Load the shotgun, growl and roar.

Dance and sing your heart out, and I will sing with you.

Don’t you know that everything is allowed to those who hear the big music?

It’s yours.

It’s all yours.

 

Seventy-eight days together. How many more left, to wait and to live? How many uncountables in this love, so outstretched and strong? How far can we go this time around, and what will be left for the next?

 

I will always want to write to you. Always.

 
 
  
 

December 5, 2013

The Scorpion and the Dragon Queen


We fight to the tingling of Raindrops keep falling on my head from a passing ice-cream truck.


I curse and yell in a language that is not mine.


“Where did you come from?” I ask, as if I did not know.


He read my call and turned his house into a pulsar.




He came on a cloud of synchronicity, strewing galaxies from his pockets like marbles. Thumped his chest with specters from beyond the pale – the offer of a graceful bow-out, all the freedom I could want. I shook in my boots as I circled around his black wings but gave him that smarty-pants Joan-of-Arc look that said


I am not going anywhere.


He sees me in my language. I come from far away, and he is not of this world. Billy Pilgrim, unhinged in time, I, his inverse double. Aeons are Baoding spheres in his hand. I can stretch seconds into lifetime bubblegum strings before I chew them anew.


He asks if he can get into bed with me. Tells me he loves the way I kiss. His hands, throbbing with calluses, find me in the dark. The Scorpion tail is put to rest and wrapped around me in the softest lovers’ whisper. This magnificent beast has chased me and caught me. You with your New England ways in Old World skin, with ghosts pacing about in the middle of the night, with your uncompromising majesty of patient returns, tell me: am I your redemption?
 
Just love me.


I do. I do sleep with a dagger, because there is no greater honor in this world than watching over him. There is nothing light, simple or easy about us. We are egos, wit, and intellect. We are lust, tenderness, and pathos. Dragon Queen of this Nation of Two, I embrace my cosmic exhibitionist soul mate. I have chosen and claimed him. I crave him. I give in to his protection, and will never let him fall.
 
 
 
 

November 29, 2013

Unrequited


This is about everyone I know, and no one in particular. I believe that we all were, or will be, all of these people, or parts of them, at some point. An exercise in the exemplariness of mimetic desire. The difference between what we want, what we get, and what we need. How wanted and loved we are even when we don't suspect it, and how we keep wanting and loving beyond what we want, get, and need.

_____________________________




“Yours is the kind of face one remembers,” he said to you the night you met.

“Is that good or bad?” you responded predictably, with what was supposed to be a careless confident smile, but he made you weak in the knees right off the bat.

You told your mother about him. You never raised your hopes too high but my God, they didn’t make them like him anymore, and your first names went together so well. Might have been a couple.

Only his hand is on the small of her back now, drawing circles even gentler than you had imagined. They are talking to a group of friends but you sense the attraction between them in this barely perceptible touch from across the room. You weren’t prepared for this, walking into your favorite bar to meet a girl friend after work. You wish you’d had time to fix your make-up and take a deep breath before having your space invaded like this. His friends are crazy about her, you've heard, and she seems so totally cool you might have hung out with her yourself, had he not fallen for her and made it all awkward and impossible.

There was no reason for him not to fall for you. You are smart, educated, you take care of yourself. You are independent and have a career. When you change your profile picture on Facebook, you get at least a hundred likes and comments like “Hott!!!” and “Do you ever age???” You shared his passion for exotic cuisine and cars – you were the cool Nitro chick, Goddamnit. You can shoot a gun and like to go camping. There were synchronicities in your life that told you it was no accident that you met. You two practically had your own language when you first hung out. People were starting to talk, and you didn’t mind at all.

You’re sensitive but you’ve been around the block. You don’t make rookie mistakes, except he was so fantastic that you did. You were there when he had a bad day at work, understanding and controlledly flirtatious. You showed up at his favorite bar all dolled up accidentally on purpose, and he noticed. He called you that one time in the middle of the night drunk, and you didn’t want to, tried not to, but you did get excited. He is a swarthy badass, and they have a way of being gallant, because that’s just how they roll.

But he never thought about you that way. He liked your company, and his ego might have used you a little bit, because you made yourself available in the right place at the right time. You write ambiguous status updates on Facebook now and change your profile picture one subtly sexy shot at a time, hoping for that one like among the hundred, that one click that might tell you he is still around, even if he has someone, even if he is madly in love and you are dating someone yourself and your new guy worships you. The hope that the sight of your face might put a smile on his, that he at least remembers you and the language you shared some time ago. Not so long ago at all.

You watch his hand rub the small of her back in this barely perceptible, shamelessly erotic PDA, and the heat between them tells you of the steamy night that should have been yours. She gets him the way no one else could, you see it in the way he looks at her. You could find faults with her if you wanted, but that wouldn’t change the fact that he’s taking her home tonight and not you. He never thought about you that way, and he barely remembers you now. There is no rhyme or reason to this. You are smart, educated, independent, and beautiful. Once upon a time you might have needed someone to tell you this. You don’t anymore. There is no rhyme or reason to this, except that they were meant to be together, and your happiness lies elsewhere.


 



_____________________________ 
 


Bad things happen to good people sometimes. You just didn’t think it would happen to you.

You knew you were reaching beyond yourself when you let yourself fall for her. Perhaps you even knew she would blow your fucking world apart in the end, but you took a chance anyway. You’d played it safe up until then, and it would have been so easy to settle for someone lesser. But you’re no idiot, and you wanted to go higher.

She was out of this world. You didn’t quite know who or what she was, but you wanted it. You watched and studied her, knowing that it would take something different to win her over. And you played your cards right. She fell in love with you. The way she spoke, the tornado of energy she brought home each day after work, the way her body moved when she dressed. And undressed. The things you two did, in the car on the highway, hidden among ocean cliffs on your last vacation together, behind the laundry room door in your building as neighbors walked by in broad daylight.

Fuck.

One of your female coworkers just found out you’re newly single, and offered to take you out for a drink after work. She’s kinda smart, only not really. And she’s kinda pretty, only not really. [Don’t say it. Don’t say, she’s not her. There, you’ve said it, dickhead] The part of you that is still capable of noticing women in this state notes her short skirt and freshly applied lipstick, even though it should have worn off after a day at the office. It would be so easy. But you just want to sit here and be numb, because the sheets are barely cold at home and her perfume is still everywhere.

You are a good man, but you will do stupid things. You will want to see her destroyed and crawling back to you, even though you know it could never be the same again. You will drunk dial her and wonder how come you’re not entitled to her picking up the phone anymore. You will not understand why she is scared of you now. You will blame her for taking away things you imagined ten years down the line, like the kids you’d already named in your mind and the house you would have bought together. You will take up skydiving or hunting or some such, just to get an adrenaline rush from somewhere else instead of this raging jealousy.

Really? This tantra instructor, ten years her junior? With Jesus-like fucking hair and dirty sheets for clothes? He probably even stinks like Jesus, too. What could that quack piece of shit possibly have to offer her? And wasn’t there a movie like this somewhere that we laughed at, but… you promised you would eat whale blubber? And how did that stupid Aerosmith song go that she used to sing, All those late-night promises, I guess they don't mean a thing...
 
Fuck.

You wanted to be part of her world. She had you hanging off a cliff, reaching back to you from above, inviting you to follow her and go higher. She was sad to see you make a different choice. She didn’t owe it to you to stay, just like you didn’t owe it to her to climb fucking cliffs. You are a different kind of hero. You made her happy for a long time, but the truth was you hadn’t been happy in awhile. She was just the braver one, even if she was cruel. You decided cliffs were not your thing and she smelled a new alpha in the jungle. There are no high roads in break-ups.

Maybe someday you will get all that karma bullshit she was on about, maybe you won’t. Maybe the smart and pretty, only not really, coworker will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. Your sun is setting in a different sky tonight, and there is nothing you can do about it anymore. This love did take you farther than you ever thought you could go, and she might have just ruined you for all other women. There is no rhyme or reason to this, only the lifetime of choices you are left with now. Your sun is setting in a different sky tonight, and your happiness lies elsewhere.







November 25, 2013

Surrender



I used to be better at this being-an-adult business.

I knew how to hold back tears. I would hear whispers behind my back. An occasional direct insult would be spoken. I was ostracized. I learned that kids were fickle creatures, and I could not fathom where the cruel and malicious came from. But I never thought that there was anything wrong with me. I knew that I was simply in the wrong place, and there would be my kind of people somewhere if I only stuck it out. And I never let it show.

I used to be able to look back on things that made me sad, and appreciate that I was not in that place anymore. The knowledge that they ended gave me strength. It’s gone, I would say. It’s past. And I was able to leave it there, carrying only the strong with me.

I remember noting thresholds in my journal. Moments of clarity, when things fell into place. Moments of growth, when I was able to articulate things out loud after years of failing to whisper them even in solitude, with no one around but my own voice. I remember a growing curve of empowerment, centered and steady, knowing as much as I could at the time, understanding as much of myself as was good for me.

I knew my cycle of amping up and surrendering. I would allow myself to get upset over something to the point of breaking. Then I would break through, surrender, and continue bigger and better. My breaking points used to whizz underneath my feet like sleepers on a railway track. Intense, fast, irreversible.

Something happened to me three years ago. Something happened and I gave away my personal power, or perhaps I was merely shown that whatever private Alexandria I had built, it was time to watch it burn to the ground. The sleepers started reversing, and got further apart. I can now take more than I ever thought I could, and yet every step feels like walking on broken glass. Past pain returns with a vengeance, despite the clarity and having let go. I cannot hold back tears anymore. Whatever armor I had in my command when I was thirteen is gone.

Winter will always smell like America, like my most powerful and my most vulnerable.

I will always feel guilty about making choices that affect those I love, no matter how benevolent, serendipitous, or wise. I will have to learn to make peace with my agency.

I will always be made of an abrasive kind of stardust. I will speak a distant kind of language, and there will always be a part of it that no one will understand. Not even my glorious soul mate. And that’s OK.

I will always negotiate my alone, my solitary, my lonely and my remote. It is who I am, just like I am connection, tenderness and love.


I will always have more than one home. And that is perfect.
 




October 28, 2013

Broken glass


I dreamt
That I was on a plane
That went down
I dreamt
That my cat had my bird in her mouth
I dreamt
That my sister announced her engagement
I dreamt
Of eating shards of broken glass like potato chips

 
I woke up
To thunder and rain
Purring, slow, patient
Between the sunrise, when I went to bed
And when I opened my eyes
The heat haze had gone
And fall was sitting on my couch


I fed the bird, the cat, and the hangover
My body had deflated
Into the line that runs down the middle of my being
I exist in two
Languages
Places
Bodies
My dragon tail drags behind me
And I am broken, transitioning

 
When I open up this suitcase
It smells like old souls meeting
And the spread of a pair of white wings
To go Noplace real slow, purring, and patient
Come find me
And find me again
This God’s child is in love with you
Come tell me
And tell me again
No music should be lost
In this short short life.




October 11, 2013

Self-portrait



There was a little girl
Who had a little line
Right on the side of her mouth
She had the figure of a pin-up
And the temper of a koala
Hated capers and parsley
Adored coffee and sushi
And bent over like an old lady when she brushed her teeth
She cried over whales and horses
And in bed sometimes, too
She read big books
And took people in small doses
Hissing if you got too close too soon, or not close enough not soon enough
Her heart was Silk Moth fuzzy
And Tasmanian Devil passionate
Razor blades fell from her mouth at times
And she felt like Edward Scissorwords
Because loving her was apparently as safe as putting your face in a cheetah’s mouth
There was a little girl
Who decided she didn’t want to be princess anymore
But queen
Just Queen
She laughed loudly
Kissed like a boss
Saw letters in colors
Could be hypnotized by stroking her hair
Or kissing between the neck, cheek and ear
But couldn’t be touched on the insides of her elbows
Or knees, or above the clavicles
A red dot would appear on her cheek in brass monkey weather
Her hands were always cold
But her arms would carry you to the end of the universe if need be
Because she didn’t show up for school when they taught half-assery
And longing never leaves her eye
And love and worship are all she knows
There was a little girl woman
Who had a little line
Right on the side of her mouth
When she was good, she was very very good
And when she was bad
Da capo al fine.



September 28, 2013

Belated Friday post




It’s a mopey Friday on this side of the world. The kind to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of cocoa, This Year’s Love crooning behind your ears without even pressing play. Flashes from last night make me smile. The red wristband from the concert is going to need scissors to be taken off, that's how tight the security wrapped it. Only one band member got naked this time. Or maybe fishnet overalls don’t count as naked. The rest were dressed like priests. Another gorgeous night of belonging and being out of place. Of removedly admiring being taken care of, and looked after, and reciprocating. Friends, opiates, music aligned perfect and melancholy because unnarrated upon coming home to an empty bed.

 

It’s a mopey Friday on this side of the world, and I haven’t had my coffee yet. I head out for a walk. I have been striating my neighborhood into perfect routes. I could tell you the exact streets I need to take for a fifteen-minute, thirty-minute, and hour’s walk. It wants to rain out there, but it doesn’t. It is chilly, but I warm up fast, and even break a sweat in this late September noon. I take pictures of underpass graffiti. I have been having bad dreams lately.

 

It’s a mopey Friday over here, and I run the bath as hot as it will go. The optics of my skin seemingly breaking underneath the surface amuses me, and I watch the bubbles of air cling to my thighs, then close my eyes and feel the droplets of water slide down my shoulders. They meet in the middle. I arrange my body into a zig-zaggy bend, not unlike Marat’s though far less dramatic, where I can just breathe and feel the hot vapors wrap themselves around me. David Gray has been replaced by Take This Longing… because everything depends upon how near you sleep to me. It does really, doesn’t it. I think I will fall asleep before sunrise tonight.

 

It’s a mopey Friday and I have spent the day in perfect silence. The cinematic reel in my mind’s eye runs faster than the music that’s been playing in my head, a dream/caricature 16 fps of highways and libraries, airplanes and seasons, passion and suspension. Story of my life. Search and wait. Wait and search. Create magic inbetween. Trade silence for a precious howl, without pressing play.
 
 
 
 
 
 

September 18, 2013

The thesis whisperer*




“Why does it take so long to complete a PhD?”

Shit.


I have an angry response for this. And a funny one. A screaming one. A death-stare one. A self-deprecating one. A non-response. But when it is asked by a smart, well-meaning person truly interested in my work who just happens to not be from academia, I can’t use any of those.


The best metaphor I can give you is that of a bodybuilder. There is that first stage, when you stuff your face and bulk up and get as big as you possibly can. Then there is the training phase, when you work your ass off and get that mofo in shape and a nice form emerges that you fine-tune and finally show off.


I am in that training phase. The thesis isn’t allowed to get any fatter, only leaner. I am streamlining and cutting things out. This will be a separate paper. This is awesome, but it has no place within these five chapters. This piece of tricep-fat has got to go because it’s fugly. Oh, my beautiful thesis, will you check yourself out in the mirror? See how it’s all coming together. Yeah, flex that. Aren’t you happy we busted our balls over that one now?


Then there is that other remark, “Wow, you’re the shit. I could never do what you’re doing.”


My response to that is, not a day goes by that I don’t question myself on that same issue, my friend. There is wisdom in knowing what you can and cannot do, and I envy those who know they can’t. I know I should be able to do this, because this is how my brain is wired and it’s what I’m good at. I know I get off on it and there is nothing I would rather do with myself. But you don’t always feel like getting up in the morning for that warm-up session, and sometimes you can’t get the definition you want no matter how hard you crunch. Self-motivation is a bitch, and you wonder if, somewhere down the line, when the trophies are handed out, it will be reward enough.


Six full years into the process, I couldn’t really tell you why it’s taking so fucking long. I can only tell you how I got here, and how it feels.


It takes maturity. A ripe, sharp-shooting, juggernaut human mind and a heart that’s been around the block. How I write is just as important as what I write. There is that tongue-in-cheek remark by my boy T.S. Eliot about needing to reach beyond oneself into the totality of history if one is to be a poet after one's twenty-fifth year. Many poets (read: pompous asses) take offense at that because they believe that their poetry is solely an expression of their person and that the world is irrelevant. Well, I don’t know anyone in the humanities who got their PhD before the age of thirty, and if they did, I can guarantee you that their work wasn’t ready, that they probably just dipped their big toe into History and the world, and their supervisors conveyor-belted them out as the academic landlubbers that they are. Like them, I was a puppy six, five, four, and three years ago. It just wasn’t coming together sooner.


It takes ages to weed out the sucky books, and there are soooo many. I read at my desk, in bed, in libraries, in bars and cafés. Upside down, sideways, every which way. There are days when your mind is one massive solar flare, and days when you wonder if someone shouldn't just put you out of your misery. You keep looking for the right regime of note-taking and daily schedule, only to find there isn’t one. This thesis could be the single most important thing anyone has ever said about this subject, or a total fucking embarrassment. It’s a thin line between genius and crazy [mediocre being worse than both, of course]. Is everything you love supposed to bring this kind of joy and pain at the same time? Gah!!!


And it does take a village. One of the main reasons I will not only own this mofo but knock it out of the park is because it was never just mine to begin with. The thank-you page will not even begin to acknowledge the hours that other minds – supervisors, professors, colleagues, librarians – have put into this. No diary could number the times that Mom made coffee and lunch, that Dad ran errands for me, and that my sister took me out for a beer and a laugh when my brain produced nothing but farts. How many times can your friends and your partner be amused by your gift of gab about deterritorialization and minority and sedentary vs. nomadic travel and legitimacy? Apparently, infinitely. They feed you and put your pants on the right way around. They take you by the hand when you are lost in thought. They put you back on track when you get off course. They correct, and groom, and love. And they should celebrate and be celebrated.


There are no experiments, formulas or machinery to my work. It doesn’t glow in the dark, blow anything up, or cure cancer. I don’t have a finite answer to most anything. But I can cure ignorance, and create a multiverse of humans treating each other better. That just might be what saves this goddamn planet.
 
 
 
 
*I borrowed the title from one of many PhD-related blogs out there, The Thesis Whisperer.
 

September 11, 2013

The slope


I was a latchkey kid. We didn’t have grandmothers to look after us while our parents were at work. We knew how to heat up our lunch on an electric stove at the age of six. The parents would have let us use the gas, but we were afraid of matches back then. We left our parents clumsily penned paper notes before going off to spend endless hours at the unsupervised playground. We would go get our baby sister from kindergarten because there was no sense in our being apart when we could be home together. Back then, teachers didn’t think twice about letting a seven-year-old pick up a three-year-old and take her home.

 

Or maybe they just let me do it. Because when I say we, I mean I. More or less.

 

It doesn’t end here. I have a friend who took herself to kindergarten and back at the age of four. It does make one wonder about the raison d'être of the entire institution of kindergarten, but that is neither here nor there. We had more alone time than we would have wanted, and an unmistakable badabum-badabum way of thundering down five stories’ worth of stairs in thirty seconds. In school, you could always tell the kids who grew up in houses from those who lived in apartment blocks just by the way they used the stairs.

 

I started taking English lessons at the age of seven. Classes took place in an elementary school nearby, and my father would drive me there and back. As I got a little older, I started walking back myself.

 

There is a slope between the main road and the entrance to my apartment building. Human feet don’t like to follow paths of concrete, so they scuffed a shortcut through the patch of grass. The path would turn to mud when it rained, cake as it dried, and freeze over in December. It was the last part of my walk back home, so close to the door that I already had my keys in my hand as I approached it.

 

I don’t know what it was about that slope, but it always made my feet turn on the badabum-badabum and canter down it like a pony. It gave me momentum. It gave me joy. Those few seconds made me feel like anything could happen, and I could do anything I wanted. It was the end of my day and the sheer extraordinariness of walking home alone at night made the breeze smell differently. The world was different because a child skipped and hopped on a patch of dirt.

 

I would love to segue into something rainbowy and inspiring now, like I still feel like a little girl, or I skip down that slope whenever I return home, but that’s just not true. It stings more than a little to be living here again: it was not something I would have wanted for myself. These days, the pony canter is more of a thuggish saunter of the bride of Shrek munching on a pig-in-a-blanket from the bakery across the street. It’s more bathos instead of taking myself seriously. I do still take that path, though, and it does make me smile. Especially when I remember the time it iced over and I thought it might be a good idea to take the shortcut uphill. As an adult. When your center of gravity is not what it used to be.

 

When I was a latchkey kid, I didn’t use the elevator because I didn’t weigh enough for the electronics to register that there was a human inside the machine and get it moving. You could press the button and hold it until it started, but there was always a chance of the elevator just getting stuck with your little self in it. I don’t use the elevator now, either, but for different reasons: because it’s an awesome way of avoiding the neighbors, and because after sitting on my ass all day, climbing stairs is my only cardio.

 

I’ve gone round the block and spiraled back to wear the shoes of the latchkey kid again, laughing and biting my cuticles all the way home. Not that my coping mechanisms are stellar now, but I still don’t envy the weight of the world that that kid made herself carry. An artist of killing time, eternally alone, eternally waiting for that someone to finally come home.
 
 
 
 

July 7, 2013

Recalibrating


 
 
 
A week before I left for the States I got lost in my own city. I was headed to a party, at a house I had been in before, and I miscalculated some train stops. Had to take a turn, and a longish walk back, and some winding streets among some looming buildings in the dark before I found my way. It was a good party, with wine and guitars and dogs running around and just the right ratio of cool vs. annoying people to keep you on your toes.

 

I am back in my home city and, again, I am one of those people.

 

People who get to work when they want, and play when they want. Who show up at parties alone, the lover overseas and six hours behind, and get to stay out as long as they want. Who take cabs home, and mind their drinks because there is no one to say “My baby’s tipsy” and take them safely home and tuck them in. Who live on the other side of town, and when it’s time to say Goodnight hold no one’s hand walking back.

 

At sunset, when decent folk scurry home after picking up dinner at the grocery store, I drag my feet because home is elsewhere. I am one of those people again, that get lost in their own city after living in it for thirty years. I take the longest walks and have time for all my errands. I write letters, stay up late and early, and bury myself in work. Sundays are lonely and the weather doesn’t mean anything.

 

I check my complexion, my weight, the look in my eyes in the mirror, as if I had just returned from the Moon, as if gravity were somehow different overseas, and scales and mirrors and human eyes registered different values. Funny, it seems that nothing has changed, even though I am a pumpkin again. Pft.

 

I have everything I want, only slightly misplaced and mistimed. I am happy, only dissatisfied. There are not enough hours in the day for all my projects, yet I wish I could go into hibernation and wake up a year from now, just in time to watch the cherry drop on top. My heart is contracting with this tough-love anatomy of longing.