I came upon this pair of panties on the sidewalk near our house and wondered how they’d gotten there. Perhaps they were abandoned after a tipsy evening’s flirtation, culminating in the backseat of a car. Things got so wild that the woman- let’s call her Daphne- forgot all about retrieving her panties because all she cared about was her cell phone with the contact info of the object of her lust -let’s call him Cliff. Daphne is in love, or so she thinks, though she will probably feel differently in the morning when her hangover kicks in. That’s scenario one. Scenario two is that the panties fell out of Daphne’s laundry bag.
I want to forget them all,
to be washed of them,
to begin again: where no one knows who anyone is,
or what he believes.
To give my attention to:
frangipani leaves uncurling,
the smell of jasmine,
one person helping another across a street;
to the seeds,
to the beginnings; to one clear word for which
there is no disguise and no alternative.
This excerpt from “Poetry in Time of War” by Rosalind Brackenbury spoke to me of the conflict raging between Israel and Palestine. Revenge exacts revenge, not justice. The score will never be settled; the slate must be wiped clean, through reconciliation, or annihilation.
This is Jake around the time we moved from our farmhouse in the country back to the suburbs. Our new neighborhood felt very safe, safer, actually, than the farm. We now had street lights and sidewalks and lots neighbors close by. Sam and I were happy that the kids would be able to walk places rather than relying on the car.
I recall that afternoon was typically busy. I was cooking dinner and trying to keep the triplets occupied and Hannah was at a friend’s house. Jake had gotten back from the neighborhood pool club and complained he was bored. One minute he was in the backyard on the swing set, and when I looked again, he was gone.
I figured he’d gone to go the open loft in our garage, which I told him not to do. The loft was accessed by a ladder and had no safety rail. I sighed, because Jake was impulsive and often did whatever he felt like doing in the moment. On my way to calling him in I got sidetracked. Maybe the phone rang or I started folding laundry, I don’t remember. But some period of time had passed when Jake came running in.
“Mom, can I go to the big lake to catch frogs with the man?”
“What big lake with frogs? What man?”
“I got to hurry if I want to go, Mom.” He was talking a mile a minute, faster than he normally did, which was crazy fast. “I was at the brook trying to find a frog and he stopped his van and asked what I was doing. He said he knows where a big lake is and if I get in his van he’ll take me there to catch lots of frogs. I told him I have to ask you first. Can I go?”
“Come on. I want to meet this guy,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. Jake and I went out, across our quiet street to the quiet brook. The van was, of course, nowhere in sight.
Jake was upset. And when I finally released him from my stranglehold hug and stopped repeating how smart he was to come to me for permission and just to be clear, he must never, ever get into anyone’s car, I felt weak in the knees.
Occasionally, the gut speaks to us and we listen. That’s what I believe happened. Jake listened to his gut, despite wanting very badly to go to the lake with all those frogs. I wish he had been able to, because that would have meant the frog-filled lake was real, and that Jake and every child in the world is safe; that every stranger they meet has only the best of intentions.
This right now,
This second of this season
is my favorite.
I wish summer could last forever,
sticking to the floor
chasing sweat-soaked sleep
on hot cicada din nights
broken by the crack of thunder.
But this doesn’t
summer’s fleeting an agony
that makes me love it all the more.
- “Kids, you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,” Atticus said solemnly. Then, the smoke alarm went off. “Ah, shoot,” said Atticus. He scurried into the kitchen, then came back holding a skillet of burning hot dogs. “I totally screwed up dinner,” he…
Pat Cassels, my literary humor hat is off to you, sir, and I am honored that you were once-twice, technically- our house guest.
I love this.
Here are Rachael, Eliza, and Sarah in the kitchen of our old house. My favorite days were days like this; the girls left to their own devices, which in this case involved weird dress-up outfits and balloons.
I used to wish I could be one of those organized parents, all brisk purpose and strict schedules, but looking back, I suspect childhood is happiest when one errs on the side of bedlam.
An overdeveloped sense of duty has its benefits, mostly to other people. I have internalized the importance of keeping my word, living up to stated obligations, returning library books on time. Admittedly, I derive a measure of satisfaction from knowing folks can count on me.
Sometimes, though, I hit a wall. When I was younger, I just powered through it, but recently, well, I’m not sure whether I’ve lost my resolve or wised up. I am pretty sure it’s the latter.
I don’t do it frequently, and I’m still not comfortable with it, but very occasionally I back out of commitments. Most of the time it’s because I miscalculated my tolerance level or fate offers up extenuating circumstances. It actually takes a lot to overwhelm me, and it takes very little to make me feel guilty, which is an existential equation I’m working on in the interest of self-preservation.
It is better for everyone if I can get what I need, and sometimes this requires reneging. It makes me feel better to think how much I would dislike being someone’s obligation, one more item to check off on the to-do list. I am quite sure people would be upset to learn I think of them that way. Them, me- we all deserve better.
Anyway, it’s only the beginning of my evolution, and I certainly don’t want to overcompensate into whimsical unreliability, but I am trying to get better at backing out and giving everyone (including me) some breathing room.
Our Audi seemed to be on its last legs; our go-to mechanic told us the exhaust system needed to be replaced and Audi parts are expensive. The car is worth $2,000 tops, so the $3,000 quote to fix it didn’t make sense. We went to a franchise muffler shop for a second opinion and the price was the same.
The car wouldn’t pass emissions without the exhaust system overhaul and the muffler ‘s death rattle grew louder by the day. We were thinking we’d have to scrap the car when Sam heard about this place on Car Talk.
American Muffler is on a block in New Haven notorious for drug deals and drive-by shootings. A rusted chain-link fence separates it from blighted buildings, and its rutted parking lot is littered with broken glass. A cheerful guy with dreds and a neck tattoo trotted over as Micah and I drove in. “Nice Audi”, he said, pronouncing it “Oddie”. “What’s the problem?” Micah started to explain. “Just get in, start it up.” The guy threw himself on the asphalt next to the car, belly down, craning his neck to look at the undercarriage.
“Your muffler’s shot, man. And the exhaust’s rusted out.”
“Can you fix it?” Micah asked.
“How much?” I asked.
He thought for a split-second, shrugged. “A hundred bucks. That sound okay?” Okay? We couldn’t believe our ears. “Cash only. You don’t got it on you the ATM’s over there.” He pointed to the pawn shop across the street.
A half hour later, the rusty muffler and exhaust pipes lay on the garage floor, and we handed him five crisp twenty dollar bills that he counted three times before pocketing. Later, the car passed emissions with flying colors.
Who’d have thought? Repair shops in the business of actually repairing things. Old fashioned ingenuity, something many of us no longer even look for, because we’ve been brought up (brainwashed?) to cautiously go by the book. I understand liability. But I gladly gave up any guarantees, the lounge with free bad coffee and a flatscreen, all the official-looking documentation to see American Muffler in swashbuckling action, proof that resourcefulness is not dead, just flying under the radar.
The past few days have been full of calamities, both far and near. The violence in Israel and Palestine, the downed Malaysian plane, and closer to home, an acquaintance was hit and killed by a truck while jogging in the afternoon and a guy Micah knew from middle school, also on a run in the middle of the day, was hit by a drunk driver and later died.
When tragedy strikes singly, my natural inclination is to dwell on how we constantly rub elbows with the Reaper. With multiple misfortunes such as these, my ruminations grow darker and more obsessive. I found myself looking at real estate listings in the middle of nowhere. I mean, what if I could just gather my family around and take them to a safe place, to live a simple life far away from potential disaster? This plan, mentioned at the dinner table to Sam and Micah and Sarah, was greeted less than enthusiastically.
“You can’t live life like that,” Sam said.
“What’s wrong with trying to eliminate certain risks?” I asked.
“By certain risks, do you mean walking? Running? Driving? Going anywhere at all?” Micah asked. “Interacting with other humans?”
“You could build an underground bunker and stay in it,” Sarah said. “Like a coffin.”
I hate to admit it, but they’re right. As much as I would do anything in my power to keep everyone safe, free will requires the assumption of risk. We roll the dice every day, and every day, the lucky ones manage the most death-defying feat imaginable. They live.