i walked into a lightening storm to have an all-expenses paid italian meal with J & L, of the apartment on connecticut ave. with omar the screaming siamese.
when last i saw them, we all gathered at a french restaurant after i took my visiting mother and her friend to service at the national cathedral.
it was a sunday. in early march 2020.
my mother's friend demurred from shaking L's hand because of this new corona virus and then we all sat down, the five us crammed together at a table for four, jammed into the back corner of the restaurant, right by the bathroom.
little did we know, ya'll. little did we know.
it is like it is all new again, J says. the things we used to know how to do, they feel kind of weird now and we have to learn how to do them again.
i have just informed her that the mains are on the back of the drinks menu. the skill we have forgotten, it seems, is how to read.
so much about this evening feel so familiar. the masses of food, the cocktails and wine, the smiles, the laughter, the discovery that we've been watching the same things, reading the same things, or, at the very least, adjacent things.
i'm struck by how easily the conversation flows, how drunk J gets off a cocktail and a half, the ease with which we reference bad decisions made about bad men in our pasts.
L's mask slides below his nose every time he speaks.
we're eating indoors because the patio is closed because the rain falls in torrents. we're eating indoors because i arrived 15 minutes early and assessed that i would feel comfortable eating at the only table in the front room, the table in the window, invitingly alone. i could sit in the corner with my back to the window, face out, and i could feel comfortable. before they have even arrived, i have taken score in my head.
J and L will never know i've assessed this, but i have. this is what i do now. this is all of the work that goes into my daily living to which others are not privy. and that's ok. they don't need to be. and the work has value. it keeps me alive. it keeps me writing. it helps me feel safe.
i've left that cats alone. when i return, it's clear they've either had a party or a war, unclear which.
a chair is turned on its side.
tufts of hair await me at the door.
they are both alive and seem not unhappy, so who knows.
i lived in these people's home for a month, J and L's. watered their ferns and orchids and fed their fish. held omar in my lap, stomach turned towards the sun, and clipped his nails.
such an odd thing, to know people's interiors better than you know them.
such an odd thing, to see them now after having had the door shut so abruptly upon our plans the spring before last.
i wore a sequin top just in case. in case we would, again, be confined to our homes for another year yet. in my honor, J wore a skirt with sequins scattered across the fabric. i am glad to see that i am enough established as a sparkly personality that sequins are recognized as my just due.
refreshing is how i would describe it. but also, like pulling out the accordion, so that it was at once that first week of march 2020, that first month of fall 2019, that first week of august 2019 when i first met them.
moment upon moment upon moment, flickering by as i walked back down connecticut, after the storm's passage, past buildings i now recognize from condos listed last winter.
bingley is young and spritely. claude looks at him like (1) WHO EVEN ARE YOU?! and (2) YOUNG MAN, CALM THE FUCK DOWN.
i'm recording videos for N's kid. silly videos of the cats living cat-life. the other day, i did a naptime movie (if a movie can be one minute) showing win all the sleepy kitties.
claude slept through it all.
bingley awoke on cue and stretched out his full length, hamming it up.
are you a children's presenter? N texted back. winnie is super into whispering right now, she wrote. how did you know?
obviously, i didn't. i was simply, intuitively speaking in the tones of naptime.
but then, right now, don't we all need that? isn't that where we all just about are? hungering for a gentleness, a relaxation, a letting go that never quite comes, but which, somehow, whispering speaks to.
whispering as care. whispering implies intimacy too, and physical closeness, yes, but also care.
i got to the restaurant early as a form of care, i realize. to suss out the situation for myself but also for them so i could clearly communicate our move from outside to inside and ensure their comfort as well as mine.
when my therapist told me to imagine myself in a safe situation, i imagined myself as claude, in my own home, cared for by me.
at the time, this struck me as equal parts beautiful and sad. he is, to be sure, majorly beloved. but i wish i could envision something beyond caring for myself.
winnie is super into whispering right now. i read this as a love of secrets, maybe, but also as a love of closeness, of being snuggled into, of being confided in.
as a child, i loathed whispering. because whispering made evident the fact that i could not hear like other people.
i remember so many games of telephone at camp where i had to either fake hear the thing whispered in my bad ear (thus, instantly ruining the game, which 9 times out of 10 earned a lecture from the camp leader to "whoever DELIBERATELY spoiled the game for the rest of us") or turn my head to my other ear, so i could better hear what was said whilst also risking an accidental kiss and betraying the fact that something was wrong with me. i was not like everyone else.
i was six or seven, watching mister rogers' neighborhood when i asked my grandfather to speak louder on the phone and he told me to switch the phone to my other ear and it came as a revelation that i could hear over there. the whole rest of my life, so much energy has been organizing events such that they are always occurring over there.
so i have maybe always been assessing, always on guard, ever since that moment when joe told me to reposition the phone. there have always been secrets and there have always been situations in need of assessment.
always, i have been a hard worker. i go above and beyond. she's so very adaptable, young people are so adaptable, the ENTs used to tell my mother whenever she asked whether i needed a hearing aid.
i would immediately recommend you get a hearing aid, the audiologist told me a few weeks ago, because i'd failed to tell her i already had one.
sitting in a booth that felt like a 1989 time capsule, i drew deep breaths. i focused deeply. i concentrated really hard. i am 40 and i felt 9. i felt a failure. i focused all of my senses and squinted my eyes to better hear the words she asked me to repeat.
it wasn't until she told me "well, you're going to know your communication needs better than anyone else" that i actually breathed. and relaxed.
i was only a kid. i didn't have a say. my parents trusted the doctors. we none of us really knew what was going on, what was done to me. still don't.
i was 39 when i came to understand that the extraordinary pain i experienced after a surgery when i was 20, pain unlike any i'd previously experienced, was because they took a piece of bone from my jaw. i had surgeries so often. i'd known different things were happening. i'd not known they would hurt differently.
already, i was accustomed to being hurt without my permission. always, i treated as a child. and however much we love children, so often we do not respect them.
the conversation starts with a discussion of what happened when i had my tonsils out when i was three.
they took you away before we were ready, debo had told me earlier in the week. and, hearing her say this, what i felt was that i might throw up. we didn't realize they were going to take you away yet, we thought we would get to go with you. we all cried, because they just took you away from us, and it was just an orderly so maybe we could have stopped it but we didn't know. you were just gone, debo told me. paw-paw and gran and me, we were all crying and they just took you away from us.
hearing her say this what i heard was the screams of my younger self. what i felt in my guts was those screams escaping my body.
there was a moment when i was in memphis, a few days later. during a family walk, i'd already told her: i think we need to circle back to that time i had my tonsils out. this was a few days after that. when debo and i poured out our hearts in the early morning on the sunporch. melted is the word i would use. we melted into one another. our bodies melted into each other.
it was already over 80 degrees out.
our tears and sweat mingled as we hugged.
when we pulled apart, our bodies smacked like suction cups as they came undone.
in the months since, i've carried that sound with me. the physical, visceral, grossness of it-- so much of what we've been deprived of during the pandemic is physical and visceral and gross-- but also the care given in that moment.
as i write this, bingley rubs the side of his lips along the outside edge of my big toe.
care looks all kind of different ways.
coping looks so different.
i am trying to better distinguish between the two.
on the way home from that dinner last night, i ran my left hand along the first five concrete pylons on the william howard taft bridge, as i've done twice previously. as i did last july 31, on the afternoon of the day i interviewed for the job i got later that night at howard. and once while staying at J & L's, so that i started teaching that august 2019 with what looked like a pair of gunshot wounds on my knuckles.
this is coping. with what, i'm not entirely certain.
i recognize it's suboptimal. i recognize i should be ashamed. i refuse.
i think we just might be entering a season of refusal. a period of care and refusal.
for refusal, like whispering, can be a means of care.
because july was anything but relaxing and we're gearing up to go into another academic year of god knows what, i took this week off. by which i mostly mean i just refused to attend any meetings. and i wrote. and i petted cats and breathed deeply.
there was a moment last night at dinner when L said something about a bad year at school and i asked them what their worst years were. L's was 7th grade, J's was 3rd, mine was 5th. J and i both said, as our reasoning for the worstness, that those were the years where we had no friends.
this question arose out of a conversation about how, when i was house-sitting for them, walking back to their apartment from target, i walked behind a man who was holding aloft the best pizza i've ever smelled in my life. and i thought maybe it came from this restaurant. which is why i was pretty sure i'd been to this restaurant before on a date with the romanian (who i maybe never wrote about here??!), that last weekend in august 2019, the last night i spent at their home, in search of that pizza.
but this italian restaurant doesn't serve pizza.
you can't always get what you want.
this is a post going nowhere and with no ending. those are my forte these days. but we're going somewhere, yeah? right? right.