Tuesday, August 30, 2011

on quiet and a storm

Thursday night after work, we packed up the car and drove to Cherry Valley to spend a long weekend with my Dad and stepmom.  Even in traffic, there was a calm inside the car.  We were getting away from the city, from noise, from the impending hurricane, from the mice.  (At the time mice and a hurricane seemed of equal annoyance.)  We arrived after midnight to my Dad coming down the driveway with a flashlight to help us unpack.  It was dark and the sky was filled with stars, we quietly made our way into the house and into bed.

I needed quiet and Cherry Valley delivers that.  But the enforced quiet on Sunday was not exactly what I had in mind.  We stayed up late Saturday night watching news reports of the hurricane turned tropical storm and brought outdoor chairs and the car into the barn.  I woke up Sunday morning to water coming into the bedroom as my Dad closed storm windows throughout the house.

At some point we looked outside the kitchen window and realized that the creek, which is normally hidden in the woods behind the house, was flowing strongly within view.  We threw on boots and windbreakers and, in a lull in the storm, went out to check on it.  The water had come over the banks of the creek and was flowing freely through the woods, uprooting trees and moving boulders along with an eerie cacophony.  A few minutes later we found ourselves trapped by the rising water and were forced to wade in swirling knee deep mud in order to get back to the house.  Soon after, some downed trees blocked the culvert below the bridge leading to our house and the creek turned river, no longer able to flow underneath the bridge, poured over the road forging a new path.

Back inside, we may have said something like "at least we still have power."  Minutes later, the quiet house turned silent.  We still had the phone and word came in from around town that we were stuck, roads were washed out on either side of us.  We hunkered down, lit candles, and listened to the creek roaring in the backyard.

Yesterday we surveyed the damage.  The creek out back had been transformed-whole swaths of what was once forest was now clearing, the bedrock creek bed which was exposed from a flood a few years ago was now covered in gravel and small rocks.  The pavement on the bridge was buckled and broken but, for us, no damage was sustained that can't grow back or be repaired.

photos taken with my phone along route 145, north of the Catskills
 We were lucky.  We made our slow way home last night passed closed thruways and highways and around flooded towns and homes.  Up and over mountains in state parks and detoured through high ground.  Back to our loud apartment with the mice and electricity, just a little more thankful than we had been a few days before. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

on a different life

There are days when I imagine that I could have a life very different from the life I have*.  When I imagine that instead of getting on a subway and coming in to this office, I am walking out the back door of my house to work in the flowers.  I have built this up in my mind so that I look past the long hours and back breaking work and only think of my hands in soil.  Of working for myself, of building something that is mine, and it feels kind of wonderful.  
I've mentioned before that sometimes the ideas and plans for my life come from a fleeting or foolish feeling rather than practicality.  When I think about the farm, the flowers, this kind of work, I see what it feels like.  What it would be like to be exhausted at the end of the day from real work, to move among something that's living and produce something of beauty.  To feel just a little quieter, a little slower.  When I sent an idyllic photo of a woman and her baby walking through her flower farm to my Dad a while back he replied, "But just think, she either got up at 4am to start her long day or has enough money that a staff of people are out there doing the work with her.  It's not easy."   But I fell in love with that photo.  With the sunrise over the zinnias and the baby on her back.  I wanted that.  It's kind of like when I was a kid and decided I wanted to live in the South because I loved the way Spanish Moss looked hanging from old trees on long, winding driveways in movies.  Yes, I could probably use some of Dad's practicality.

On the way to work yesterday morning I picked up a bouquet of flowers from River Garden, a farm owned and operated by a husband and wife team in Catskill, NY.  The pair comes down to the Union Square farmers market four times a week and has the most beautiful variety of cut flowers.  I can't imagine what it must be like to leave Catskill before dawn to get to Union Square by the time the commuters are strolling through and what work it must take to keep this going.  But I am thankful they are there, for the flowers and for the daydream they provide for the last five minutes of my commute to the office.

Union Square flowers from Hither and Thither

*I know some of my book-loving friends are divided on Irving so I won't dare give a review here, but there is a passage in A Prayer for Owen Meany that I seem to steal from all the time, as I did a bit here in this first sentence.  Here is the original:

"But pine pitch on your fingers is the same everywhere; and the kids with their hair damp all day, and their wet bathing suits, and someone always with a skinned knee, or a splinter, and the sound of bare feet on a dock…and the quarreling, all the quarreling. I love it; for a short time, it is very soothing. I can almost imagine that I have had a life very different from the life I have had."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

on the mouse defense

I always hated Tom and cheered for Jerry.  Jerry was cute, Tom was nasty, always painting fake mouse doors on the wall so Jerry would run into them until he saw twirling stars above his head.  Tom lived a pampered life, Jerry was just trying to grab a piece of cheese when he could.  I rooted for the little guy.

I am sorry Tom.  I was wrong.  I didn't understand what it was like.  The startling flash of something small and furry crossing in front of you in the hall.  The crumbled gnawed edges of recipe books.  The unexpected droppings on couches and countertops, places that should be safe and clean but now feel dirty and violated.  Tom, I get it now.

At first he (it could be a she, but let's just pick he for the story's sake) was invisible.  Small signs of him appeared in the kitchen and then in the livingroom.  But they were infrequent and he was actually never seen, so it felt like little harm had been done.  Then he got confident.  With all the lights on in the apartment one night, a blur of fur crossed from the kitchen into the corner of the floorboard in the hallway.  Surely that blur could not be a mouse.  A week later Mike saw the same thing, the fur blur into the floorboard at the same spot.  I went to google, "how fast do mice run."  Did you know a mouse can run 11 feet in one second?  No, neither did I.

We decided we'd have to bulk up our defense, a trip to the store for supplies and we hunkered down for a night of fortifying.  As if he knew what we were up to, that little mouse slowly and deliberately walked out of the bathroom as if he were our roommate and then strolled into the bedroom.  Our bedroom.  Where our bed is.  Where we sleep.  Mike grabbed the broom, I grabbed my camping headlamp and a can of Raid (I didn't actually use it, just programmed by roach sightings) as we attempted to shoo it back to it's hole in the hallway.

We spent the next hour on our knees around the floor of the apartment plugging every space with steel wool (did you know a mouse can fit into a hole that size of a pencil eraser?) and peppermint oil soaked cotton balls (did you know mice don't like the smell of peppermint?**).  We scrubbed and cleaned and waited to see if we were safe.  We're not.  We don't know where he's getting in, but last night he raced across the livingroom floor as we took our positions with the headlamp and the broom.

Tom, I don't know how you did it for all those years.  We're in week two and I'm ready to move. 

now I know why Tom was driven to violence

*No mice were harmed in the making of this blog post.  We currently have humane traps set around the apartment but I will admit that after tonight I am pretty close to changing my humane tune.
**I now know more about house mice than I ever wanted or needed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

on an anniversary

It was an overcast morning and nerves woke me up before everyone else.  Christina was in the bed next to me and I crept out of the room and into the livingroom, pulled back the curtains, tried slow deliberate breathing to calm myself.  It had been a terrible week, but now I was going to marry Mike.  This was a good thing, a happy thing, but I was nervous.  Not about marrying him, I knew that would be the easy part, it was just everything else.  He was still asleep just a few feet away in the Inn next door.  I wanted to sneak out the front door of our suite and into the Inn, climb up the stairs and lay next to him, tell him that I was nervous so he could pull me in, help me back to sleep, tell me that there was no reason to be.  But I let myself keep to the tradition of separation and stayed on my side of the wall. 

I crawled back into bed and ruffled around enough to wake Christina up.  She rolled over, sleepily assessing the situation, "Are you awake awake or going back to sleep?"  I wanted more sleep, I wanted to be calm, but it wasn't going to happen.  "I'm sorry, I know it's early, but I am awake awake."  And with that she was out of bed and into her bag and over to the stereo with a cd that started blasting "Going to the Chapel." 

I can't think of our wedding without thinking about the days before the wedding.  Sometimes I look at the photos and feel a pang of guilt that we are there smiling and laughing, enjoying ourselves.  I want to slip into that photo and hug my August 21st self, tell her that the next few months will be hard, so it is alright to be happy now.  I wonder if years from now I will be able to separate the two.  We lost one of the most important people in our world.  We had a wedding.  But, for now, it still feels like one sentence: we lost Mike's mom and were married a few days later. 

Today, I will try and separate them.  Today I will celebrate one year of marriage with my Mike, I will be thankful he found me, that we have each other.  Today I will love this day. 

some alone time minutes after the ceremony

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

on something that's ours

A few weeks ago, when the record breaking heat made our apartment a bit too uncomfortable to manage, we went to Home Depot to get an air conditioner for our living room.  Normally this would have been a production involving multiple subways and a thrown out back, but with the introduction of a car in our lives, it was an easy fix.  Walking through the parking lot toward the mega-store, a task most people would find onerous and grumble-inducing, Mike was beaming.  The face-radiating-light spectacle continued into the store, through the reams of wood beams and paint chips and formica counter tops until finally he said, "I can't wait until we can come here all the time."  I thought he was kidding, the look I shot towards him said all that was needed.  "No, really, I love it here.  I can't wait until we have a place that requires us to use this stuff." 

Really?  Aren't these outings what most people dread?  Leaky faucets and overgrown lawns and gutters that need cleaning?  Not so for Mike who is excitedly looking forward to future Saturday mornings spent talking about front load washers with the sales guy in aisle eight.  When I pressed him on it, he said it's not just the stuff, it's what the stuff is for.  Our home.  Not some place we rent, but a home that is ours to take care of.  Once he put it that way I put aside my fear of cars, traffic, and runaway carts in crowded parking lots and realized that one day something will be ours.  It will probably be bigger than the 400 square feet we live in now.  It will have closets and maybe even a door that opens to a bit of green space rather than the lobby where everyone in our building sits and smokes under the "No Smoking" sign.  A place we get to take care of.  And just like that he got me on board.  Home Depot never looked so good. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

on August 14th

Dear Bernadette, 

A year ago today, I sat at the foot of your hospital bed and listened as Mike whispered a goodbye to you.  We weren't prepared.  I know people say you never really can be, but we just thought we had more time.  You thought you had more time. 

Yesterday we drove out to Freeport and gathered on a boat with the rest of the family to celebrate you, to say another goodbye.  After last week, the late nights and the secret crying sessions in bathroom stalls, we weren't sure how things would go.  There were tears as we lowered the urn into the water, but the hours out on the ocean were beautiful, and we even managed to laugh.  (Timmy was there with us, of course we laughed.)

I feel guilty sometimes for missing you as much as I do.  I feel like I shouldn't be allowed to be as sad as I am since you weren't mine.  I still can't really know what the past 365 days have felt like for Mike and Sam and Mary if it hurts like this for me, but maybe it's my love for them that makes things so hard. 

Thank you for everything you continue to be for us.  We love and miss you, but you are never far from us.

Onward full tilt we go to day 366,


from here

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

on the strange act of counting down

I mentioned in Mike's birthday post that we had started the unhealthy habit of the what-was-happening-one-year-ago-today remembering and since we're closing in on the sad anniversary, the practice has only increased since then.  Last night, in the dark of our bedroom, I saw the blue light of Mike's cell phone reflected on the wall and rolled over to find him reading his last text conversations with his mom.  A mental health professional would most likely advise him to delete those in order to move on, but he's not ready.  On August 11, 2010 he wrote to her that he was happy she was home from the hospital, that he loved her, and that he would talk to her soon.  He never got the chance. 

I know we'll be better once this first anniversary is behind us, so I'll be back to posts about lighter things soon.  But I am going to sign off for a bit now. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

on the pain of embarrassment

Walking down 20th street when a perfect encapsulated embarrassing memory flashed in front of me.  When I saw it in my mind it felt as if someone had punched me, hard and quick in the stomach, the tremendous feeling of embarrassment nearly stopped me from taking another step.  This happens from time to time, I'm not sure what triggers them, or why I can't be programmed to not remember the stupid things I've said or done, but each time it happens I hear Homer’s voice saying “Doh!” as I flinch in recollection.  Really, I hear it every single time.  I’m not sure what I heard alongside this feeling before the Simpson’s existed, but maybe I hadn't been alive long enough to thoroughly embarrass myself prior to 1990. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

on the plane at 30,000 feet

The speaker cracked and the pilot's voice came on to announce that, after only 20 minutes in the air, we had reached our cruising altitude and were now preparing to descend.  We'd made it through the thunder clouds above Boston and were now moving out and in to open sky, I could finally see a landscape below and could make out the intricate waterways of Rhode Island before the plane made a left over the Long Island Sound.  I reached into my bag and grabbed my camera, no longer needing to hold the arm rests so tightly now that we had stopped dipping in the turbulent clouds.  I pressed my nose against the glass and followed the shoreline of the north fork as we moved above it.  Out of the corner of the window I noticed a body of water that started at the Sound and moved east and down toward the middle of the island, the Nissequogue River, and knew we were close.  Another minute and we were above my hometown, the peninsula of Eaton's Neck wrapping into the sound and protecting the harbor, the spit of land that is Hobart Beach reaching out across the Bay toward Caumsett.  For a brief minute I was able to trace the outline of Northport with my finger on the window and then the plane shifted and turned again towards the south shore and JFK.