trying to teach
on the last day
mark your passage
no one knows
but we try
a cacophony of chaos
despite the dissonance
each one of us
to find some song
there is a moment
celebratory brownie crumbs
abandoned on the plate
your one hundred pound frame
a man’s eyes
above the glint
of moving metal
my own fingers strumming
Two years ago, it was paper airplanes, ginger tea, and butterflies in my stomach. I was falling in love fast with the man making precise origami folds at my kitchen table, while whistling “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Over the course of a month, I’d been quietly spending time with the Bohemian. In the rare free moments I had away from seven-year old, Jeb, I wandered in the bamboo and swam in the ocean, with this free-spirited soul who had a foreign name and the warmest hugs. Each time he exited my door, leaving his cornucopia offering of guavas, avocados, and lilikois, I braced myself to never see him again. I’d been broken before. I readied myself for the inevitable goodbye by weaving it into our hellos. Hence, I told no one of the Bohemian, especially Jeb.
I don’t know what changed. Jeb and I were fresh from Halloween costume shopping, the ritual I’d done with him, alone, for years. He had his wand and glasses, all set for Harry Potter magic. We were home and and I was at the kitchen sink, readying for dinner. Oh, how I wanted to see the kind face of the Bohemian again. And oh, how I feared that the love that was blossoming in my heart would swiftly destroy me in its eventual leaving.
Surges of raw tenderness coursed through my every heartbeat, pumping fresh feeling to the limbs that sliced cheese for Jeb’s snack, took the trash to the curb. I was under the influence, but couldn’t say it. A woman in love, who was petrified. But just brave enough (or foolishly wild from the love drug) to chance it.
Looking back, the only thing that changed was my willingness to risk. I had already surrendered to my own demise. I was prepared to suffer the consequences of my heart’s undoing. But I had been standing guard when it came to Jeb. Introducing my son to the Bohemian meant the gates were opening. And that was definitely scary.
So I kept it all quite casual, of course. Rinsing dishes there at the sink. Talking on the phone with the Bohemian.
Yes, we got a costume. No, I’m not sure what I’ll be for Halloween. Yes, it is a beautiful afternoon. No, we don’t have any more plans for today.
“Hey, would you like to come over for dinner at our house tonight?”
No matter how relaxed I tried to make it sound, we both knew it was more than a dinner invitation.
“Sure. Why not?”
Yeah. Why not?
Why not take a risk?
I had done my mama bear duty. Ascertained that this man was certainly of good will and kind heart. Jeb liked having friends over for dinner. And that was what it would be.
Only a fly on the wall could tell you if it was obvious I was riding out the loopty-loops of turbulence with every paper airplane launched from the Bohemian’s hand that night, post-dinner. Jeb was enamored with his aerodynamic precision. I was in awe of his playfulness.
So when the saints came marching in, via the sweet wind of the Bohemian’s smiling mouth, I thought for sure annihilation was my fate. How could I want something so much and survive the loss if I didn’t get it? Because it was clear. I wanted this.
I wanted the spice of ginger steaming from three hot mugs. I wanted the magic of paper creases fueling flight. I wanted Jeb’s fascinated voice to forever ring, “How did you do that?”
I wanted to grab that whistling man and my wide-eyed son, wrap my arms around them both and say, “I love this. I want this. I need this.”
I wanted to not be afraid of letting myself feel that wanting. To want it all, completely. Then be strong enough to let it go.
I’m sure the fly on the wall saw it all in me. The fear, the awe, the love. There was some kind of courage there, too. All three of us were brave in our openness. A family in formation, paper airplanes in the living room. Test pilots, creasing, lifting, crashing, landing, creasing and lifting again.
For those that read the Archives, you’ll know I married that Bohemian. Jeb is now nearly ten. We are a family, still lifting and launching (sometimes crashing) and learning everyday.
I took a risk for what I felt I wanted, deeply. And sometimes I still get scared.
That’s when I let myself be buoyed. Held by folds and whistles and saints. Love.
There were old poems from my father. A gift to my mom when we were small. Me, maybe four or five. My sister, two or three.
Even then, there was an essence that he saw. One poem for each of us. Mine had oak trees and quiet. The seriousness of a first-born child.
My sister’s was light. Laughter and delight in tiny tennies, “dancing to any ole tune.”
Maybe these traits are innate. My dad sensing them early on.
Growing up, my sister’s joyful abandon was both my envy and frustration. Sharing clothes in high school, she would regularly return white shirts with random stains.
“I’m sorry, Jess. I didn’t mean to.”
I knew it wasn’t purposeful, she just wasn’t thinking. And that’s what made me crazy.
Later, in my twenties, less thinking is what I longed for. I watched in wonder, as my sister boldly twirled through the world without hesitation. She traveled California in a souped-up Dodge van with hand-sewn curtains and a bed. She painted a slogan in huge letters across the back doors, proclaiming “We know who we are when we dance.”
Though I certainly had my own daring adventures, it seemed my moves were always much more measured than hers. Not that she was haphazard, just loose. Not that I was rigid, just more cautious.
And much less patient. I remember my sister telling me a story of her meditation practice with a fly. How when it landed on her bare-skinned body, she chose to just let it crawl. She did not flick it away. She gave no resistance. Its little legs were irritating as it roamed, but she simply surrendered to its presence. Found liberation in her full submission to the discomfort.
I so admire this yielding patience. This willingness to let. My sister’s ability to let with lightness and a laugh.
I’d like to think that I’d do fine with my own fly meditation. But I’d have to be in the mood. The truth is, in the day-to-day, I’m just more attached to control.
Somehow, with my sister, this yen of mine for order never fails to become glaringly apparent. As in this scene, on my last visit with her in California.
We’re in our late thirties now. Mothers with purses and sons. She’s behind the wheel of a standard, family car, her four-year old, securely fastened in the back. I’m following behind her in a rental, Jeb in the passenger seat beside me.
I don’t know where we’re going in this labyrinth of neighborhood streets. Too complicated to give me advance directions, she says “just follow me.”
As I tail behind them, I can tell by looking through their back window that it’s White Stripes on the stereo. I see her smiling in the rear view mirror at her son, his arms in an air drum fervor, pumping in time with Meg White.
Delighted fun and bass drum leak from the cab of their car whenever we come to a stop sign. My sister is pure smiles, bobbing her head and clicking on her turn signal.
Our car is quiet. Jeb is still beside me, taking in the trees. “Can we please not have music mom?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
I continue following my sister’s cues until she slows and flips a U on a small side street. She pulls up beside me, rolling down her window.
Jack White’s in a bubble of sound surrounding them, his sing-songey invitation asking when we’re going to ring his doorbell. My nephew smiles at us through his window, still rocking out.
My sister’s sparkling, not a worry. “I think I took a wrong turn back there. Just keep following me.”
My face betrays me. Maybe it’s my eyes that roll, or my lips turn down and pucker. It’s just a simple U-turn, but I’m annoyed in only the way a big sister can be.
“What Jess?” she laughs. “It’s no big deal. We’re close. Just follow me.”
It’s embarrassing how easily agitated I can become. And never is it so obvious as when I’m with my sister.
I swirl in my bi-polar chasm; both irritated that we didn’t reach our destination in single-pointed efficiency, and disappointed at how I let it matter one iota.
In my dance of the inner extremities, revealed expertly, through the divine mirror of my sister, I am humbled. I try to keep in step and still honor my own groove and rhythm.
I think we do know who we are when we’re dancing. We’ve all got our own style. Seems the key is to just stay light enough to move.