It may have been the speed of the walk or the rhythm of the crushing leaves beneath their feet, whatever the case the pace of the conversation was quickening. Red and Tess marched along side by side in step with hands buried deep into the warmth of their pockets. Every now and then one would succumb to sniffling like a salute to the cold air. As the volley continued clouds of condensed breath puffed out of them resembling steam from an engine barreling down a track.
The conversation was not serious but it was a serious conversation. Red made the call to Tess the day before in which he admitted to wanting to see her, to being in town and asking to catch up. Tonight they were walking, very quickly, like indeed there was something they were catching.
She wouldn't have known he was there, she would have gone on letting him fade in the background but this line was thrown and with a sense of looming regret she took it. Tess made apologies for the temperature as if she could be to blame for Boston in November. She went on and on about life, Red went on and on about lack of it.
Old friends forgive awkward moments for the sake of reminiscence. The first minutes of reuniting so delicate and fragile, like thin ice, give way. The resulting plunge begs old souls closer.
Here was that fall.
The brisk walk exchanging niceties filled the space and time that was to deliver them to a modest and quiet restaurant on the other side of town. Leaves continued to cushion the path and words continued to fly until reaching an unexpected crescendo. "Is the Moriarty family as I remember?" asked Red with over the top politeness. Tess was thankful for such an open ended inquiry and spent two blocks describing characters Red long ago knew well.
Tess began to overtake Red's long legs. Alarmed, she paused mid-stride to look up from the cornflake leaves. "Red, what's the matter?"
Red stopped two full paces ahead then turned to face her not bothering to hide his tears.
At the sight of him the years distance closed and Tess forgot all the decorum she had been observing to rush to him. She threw her arms around him as Red shuddered then burrowed his face into her offered shoulder filling his arms with her.
All at once Tess imagined the worst. This was how an old friend would tell her bad news, something must be wrong. She could live apart from him but not without him, she couldn't bare to loose her oldest friend. Damn it Red.
"Charles, what the hell is going on." Tess demanded, but her actions belied her urgent anger as she strengthened her hold to the man.
"How old is this coat?" He asked.
"Damn it, I don't know - ancient." Tess smiled reluctantly as the man made of the boy she knew lifted his head to wipe his face with the back of his hands. She glared at him and said nothing.
"Sorry," he said wiping her shoulder with his sleeve, his lower lip still quivering. With a blink he freed more tears then finally met her eyes with his own. "Tee I've missed so much, I feel old."
Tess could hold back no longer and exhaling matched his bet of tears. Barely able to ask what she broke her stoic pose to ask, "You feel that way cause you see me, and I am old, right?"
Red assumed a dumb founded look.
"Its true, I know, its been so long and I feel gray, I look it too, I know."
"Tess, you are just how I remember you."
"Then what the hell is going on Red, what's wrong?"
Eyes met, moments passed.
"Nothing Tess, I just couldn't take it anymore." Red pressed his temples and let a million deep creases of painful thought cross his brow.
Tess stepped forward to him completely compelled to slap him but instead resumed her unflinching glare despite the blur of pooling tears.
Until Red spoke.
"I felt like we were dead, I came here looking for you and just now it felt like it was painful for you to even be near me. All business where my best friend used to be... Like I didn't know you and may never again."
Red sat down where no one was ever meant to find a comfortable seat. Tess soon joined him.
"I thought you were about to tell me you had cancer or something. I was preparing to hear you tell me how you were going to burn out when I had gotten used to you just fading away."
Now she fell into his shoulder. And for a second if you looked cross eyed at them you could see the wool melt into jersey, denim and worn chuck taylors. As they exhaled fog into the evening air you might think you saw a lit Marb in his mouth with her lipstick on the filter.
While it may seem like a stretch, the year is near done passing.
I have a few (eight) weeks left of classes then I take off for Peru to celebrate the Holidays the way I do now as a lone human in the world. With strangers and surf boards.
Between now and then there will be high levels of stress.
Days where I look in the mirror and try to forget I've just risked everything I have for the sake of another degree. Then mercilessly bury myself in an outline.
However, for purposes of self-improvement, and excitement over ending my first year of consistent blogging, I propose you tell me.
More than likely you are my friend, some people read this.
What was your favorite post(s) of 2009? What should I never do again?
Looking forward I will probably be branching into two pages, one for just short fiction and another for hindsight.
One critical thing I have not posted this year is a piece for my sisters. I have one for each brother, a couple involving my parents and loads with friends. I have learned I cannot write a piece about my sisters that doesn't end with me sniffling and tearing up. My goal for 2010 is to write for Shannon and Katie... its that hard that it has to be a New Year's resolution.
I'd appreciate it if you have the time to share your thoughts. Email me directly or comment with reckless abandon. If you and I have walked parts of this Earth together and you would like me to write something for you - ask! (It doesn't have to be a blog post).
Please don't read on if you are easily embarrassed or scoff and deeply personal information made public.
This one is not for the faint of heart. It is, after all, exactly what happened to me today and as such - its graphic.
I am sitting recovering from a not-so-typical Monday in the coffee shop by my house. Its Open Mic Night at MuddyCup and the room is filling with all walks of life. The people watching is really incredibly on tonight. A young teenage girl next to me is tuning her voice singing a little "Sweet Child of Mine." The middle aged black man across the table from me is packing up his chess board and explaining to the med student studying immunology to his left the nuances of the game.
I can hear the cappuccino machine rev and guitars tune. The show is about to begin as my unusual day ends in a far more comfortable fashion from how it began.
As I said and warned - this is going to get messy.
I woke up gross. Seriously gross. But incredibly relaxed. It was the residual medication wearing off. I felt incredibly awful for a Sunday night. For no apparent reason I was suffering from a very serious migraine. It was so bad I decided to dabble in my stash of "this will knock her out" meds. Within minutes I spun into sleep until my alarm sounded in the morning.
I laid there for a few minutes sure that I was going to be sick before I could get to the bathroom.
After hugging porcelain in absolute agony I decided I was probably going to miss class and went back to bed.
But that usual post vomit euphoria got me into the shower and out the door.
The second I hit the fresh air I almost passed out.
It was like I had been choking and after a few deep breaths I had to sit from light headedness.
I made a doctors appointment.
My landlord called the gas company - there was a leak. I couldn't smell it. I don't have a traditional "sense of smell." As soon as I opened my front door she caught the whiff of it. The kitchen and bedroom are in the back of the apartment - so yeah, the place was full of gas.
"Lucky you don't smoke" said John when I texted him.
I headed to school then directly to the hospital after class to get checked out. I made the appointment in the brief moment I thought I had the flu. Feeling nearly completely well I nearly cancelled it but thought about the last time I saw a doctor and considered it couldn't hurt.
The hospital is across the street from the law school.
I waited for ages reading in the waiting room when finally I was brought back to be interviewed by a nurse. I explained why I was there, that I was feeling much better and what not. After the usual run-of-the mill work up we get to the question of when my last pelvic was.
I said this was going to get graphic.
"About a year ago." As soon as I said that I knew I was gonna be in the stirrups. Its the responsible thing to do no matter how unpleasant. I figured why not? I'm already here, best just get it out of the way.
The nurse pulled out the paper sheet and gave the usual instructions.
"Strip from the waist down and unhook your bra please." Sure. Can do.
It is clear to me having many men for friends that they really don't get this ritual. Its so text book. But, if you happen to be a person who gets a kick out of the absurd these awkward situations can be quite entertaining.
The nurse knocks on the door. I'm behind the curtain ready to rock. I'm reading the latest Wired issue. She pops her head around the curtain and asks "Miss Holmes, this is a teaching hospital would you consent to a student in the room?"
Science education? Sure. "I don't mind." I say. She acknowledges the positive response assuring me my wait is near over.
Good, I'm freezing and starving. I go back to reading the magazine sitting half naked under a paper sheet wishing I had left on my socks.
Half a cover article later another knock on the door. The middle aged male doc appears from around the magic curtain and introduces himself. Not that I am really paying attention. I am just waiting to see him wash his hands. I always take note of when and how MDs wash their hands. Its a little OCD of me. He goes right to the sink. Takes a glance at the chart and begins with small talk.
"Student at the Law School?" I nod. "How do you like it so far?" I shrug. I am forming pleasantries of course, what I said and such I don't recall because at this moment there is another knock on the door. I am completely on my back knees up lights, camera, action!
In come a class of med student type white coats.
At that moment I knew I would be writing this. I knew it was going to be mortifying and all I could do was stifle complete laughter.
They marched in. And yes, they all washed their hands, they all gloved up and in my head I'm concluding "they all want in."
Soon the little examination room was full and I tried to just not be there too. I could barely inhale I was so close to laughing out loud.
I was trying to pretend I was in a meeting, class, on the metro - anything other than one of nine people in the room and the only one naked.
One more person and I was going to suggest we order a pizza. I was starving. As it turned out the escaping to class was pretty useful. The MD was teaching and I now know a few of his tricks for examining my ovaries. Good to know.
For a moment I had to look down from my fixed point on the ceiling. I shouldn't have. The sheet that covered the bottom half of me was back lit and there was a shadow puppet show going on that was disturbing enough to warrant a very loud outburst of laughter. At that the MD popped his head up to ask if I was ok.
"I just never thought I'd be so popular."
The room laughs. I apparently broke the ice. Now the kid to my left is complementing my tattoos while giving me a breast exam. Another student is explaining they are forming a new run club on campus and is inviting me to join... as if I would be able to show my face in so much as the hospital cafeteria again. I say "That would be great."
I think she might facebook me later.
Someone in the mix is asking me if I have been to the Palace Theatre yet. I'm able to say no, that I hope to go to Rocky Horror there. This is all well and good till the MD wants everyone's attention. Everyone gets silent and moves to a clear view of the other side of the sheet.
"A little pressure here."
Thanks for the warning.
The student he allows at the helm, the brown noser I assume, remarks "You have a very healthy looking cervix."
I would have said thank you but I laughed. Cause as she says that the pack of students nod.
They thank me again for my cooperation and then disglove and leave.
The MD caps cultures and jots down on the chart sheet he eventually hands me to give to the receptionist and takes his leave.
When the door closes behind him I sit for a second all covered in paper and have myself a laugh.
What was I thinking? These people walk the same streets, buy coffee at the same shops, drink beer from the same taps as me. Their faces are burned into my memory. What was I thinking?
I take to the sidewalk still chuckling and call Cat in near tears. "You don't think they'll recognize me do you?" Cat is painfully honest and for that I love her, "With those tattoos they'll remember you."
Someone tell me how to disappear completely.
Or at least give me the guts to wink at the familiar faces as necessary in the future.
I was stepping out off of my porch when a now familiar voice called out to me. "Hi Mary!" I turned back to my left looking up to respond to Helen, my neighbor, over one, up one.
From her second floor front porch Helen was sitting as usual watching the street. "Hi Helen, how are you?" I answered. "I'm still in my pajamas! My friend and I are going down to Hunter Mountain for brunch."
"Pajamas, its noon! You mean Linner, half way between lunch and dinner." I made Helen laugh.
We talked like this for a few minutes. She always wants to know what I am up to. She was happy to hear I baked cookies for Shana and Dan like she told me to. My landlords upstairs, Shana and Dan are half way through baking a first born. They make me happy. Helen fusses over them and they fuss over her. We all talk to each other from our porches.
Helen is Aunt Helen to the family on the first floor of her house. To the rest of the neighborhood she is just Helen, the wise old woman with sharp eyes and large heart who glues our block together.
Somedays I will come home and she is in my front yard pulling weeds with Shana. Sometimes she's leaning over the railing in a conversation with Dan a porch over. Most often she is corralling her nephew and great nieces into the house for dinner.
Today I am stopping over to deliver a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies on my way to school. Communities are a rare thing and when you find yourself in one all of the sudden, behave accordingly to make it stronger. I'm thankful for it. I blame Helen.
Free radicals are ions with unpaired electrons that are highly reactive.
I'm a free radical and I love making chemistry happen in my life. I love new places and people. I live to get out there and see, touch, taste and know the world I am in. Some of my best moments are ones when things just come together, a party where I introduce and old friend to a new one or the moment a group of strangers are laughing and letting down their guard.
I am not afraid to put myself out there, like right here. I wouldn't say I think I am super interesting or important, its the fact that I believe I am insignificant that keeps me fearless.
The world, will go on. My problems won't stop it. Life is for living and sharing. I share here.
When I left my home and my family I was no more than a girl in the company of strangers.
I'm a free radical, the early years:
I remember thinking the world was cruel. When your world is made up of some not-so-forgiving grade school girls you can feel that way. I saw nothing beyond the schoolyard and I as certain life was hard. But my family brought a never ending source of characters into my life and taught me the art of extroversion. Had it not been for them and that lesson, I may not have ever been Mary.
Schoolyards change. They expand and with epiphany I found myself in uncomfortable situations learning to handle myself. This is essential to a free radical. Knowing what you must have with you to survive. The basics you can get by with. How to settle in where you are, where ever it may be.
Getting Out There: Part I, What I Want.
I want to feel free, like where I am is totally my choice and each experience is what I am there for. This is not a difficult thing, and where I am now its a great sense of motivation. I want to do what I do for a purpose. There is so little time and so much that really isn't necessary.
Part II, For Want Of.
To be honest and brief, not everyone walks away and finds the road behind them changed. My life has been a brisk walk down a path that quickly disappears behind me. There is no going back and no road home. I get out there for want of finding where I started at some ending. I am not running from home but running to it. I know, actually, it is where I am - but there are surroundings more perfect than others.
There have always been places I prefer to others, magnets. My poles. Syracuse is the center of my little universe, I haven't lived there in ten years. In that time I have made my life along the thruway and beyond.
I can walk away from my magnets. I have and can. The strongest pull in my life is my family. Yet, my friends may not even know how much I miss them when I go, as far as magnets go their force is undeniable.
It comes down to love. The people I love draw me to here and there. Where they are I feel at home. I cannot have everyone in one place... Magnets repel as they attract. Its just a balance.
Holmesickness; (n). The pain associated with being part of my amazing family and realizing you can not be part of each others' lives the way you naturally want to.
Missing Pieces, we are like the Monopoly board, decks of cards and hand me down games we grew up with, we are missing pieces. And we substitute them with what we can find and play on. Game on.
My current game of Life is eclectic and I wouldn't change the pieces I've collected for anything.
What if after all this time I found a new magnet? A new place. What if I made my own life somewhere and for the first time the road is right where it was when I ran down it? A place I can see my future in more clearly than the cloud I've always associated with tomorrow? Future, not just the sentiment of where I came from. What happens to a free radical when for the first time they want to go backwards?
Reversing chemical reactions.
It can happen. It might take far more energy than the original equation but it can be done.
Plain Language Box:
I didn't know when I left D.C. I would miss it. It was an accident. I swear. I went there to go there, to get away, to move forward. I never went intending to stay. I was an accident, I swear.
I left to come "home." I figured I would be fine, I always am. I was the only kid at summer camp completely not homesick. I came back to NY because I thought it was time to move on. Ask Meg, she knows, I just thought I was being silly in D.C. I thought I was hiding, killing time and having a wonderful time doing that. It was like a sabbatical.
I moved back to NY to get back on "track."
That wonderful time I was having, I see now, was my life. It was the jogs on the Mall, crepes at Eastern Market, Volunteering around town, The Amnesty Office, and the people, the ever-loving people! It was the Physchotropic Film Society, the DCDefenestrators and Fringers. It was long late runs in Maryland and the people, the ever-loving people.
And no, I didn't see it while I was there. I knew I was having fun and I knew I was happy - I was well aware I was happy. But I didn't feel like I should stay. That feeling, that truth cost me one move to upstate NY.
Figuring out you have somewhere you belong is a priceless realization. I may not make it back there. But knowing that potential exists, that I can have some amazing life in the right conditions is incredible energy for a free radical.
That realization, that I miss D.C. was not all bad. I know now I needed to leave to focus on school just as much as I know now I should probably go back.
To the place I woke up and started life over.
The reaction will progress at the proper rate until completion - maybe even to the point where the bond formed, can't be broken.