He didn’t look up at the window but he knew I was there. Instead, he tugged at the ski mask where it had inched up his neck and kept his attention on sorting the toys left at the curb into two piles.
It wasn’t this sky but one like it, nearly cloudless in a different way, the water its own color of Lake Superior blue and calm in a masquerade that invites cowards to dream of long distance swimming, going all the way from here to Canada with perfect strokes, barely rippling the water, so still and unbroken was the surface that there could be no mistaking that what I was seeing was real, the blue created for this one moment that would be lost in the telling, unbelievable as it was, better a secret kept, the soaring flock of white pelicans.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mouth Drop.”
It never occurred to me to be anything. Growing up as a kid in a small town and then later as a kid in a working class suburb of Detroit, I never thought about it, what I wanted to be when I grew up.
How is that even possible?
I wasn’t a dumb kid. And I wasn’t a boring or a bored kid. I spent a lot of time outside. I rode my bike a lot. I went to school. I came home. I changed my clothes. I went outside.
But being outside a lot never morphed into wanting to be a park ranger. I didn’t want to be a biologist or study trees. I sat in a lot of trees but that’s as far as it went. There didn’t seem to be a lot of career ladders lying around. And I never missed them. You don’t miss what you don’t know isn’t there, I guess.
I don’t blame anybody for this, my lack of career vision as a child. One could say it was part of the times. Nobody expected anything from girls so they didn’t expect anything from themselves. But Margaret Mead was born a long time before me, when they were still wearing knee length swimming suits, and she probably knew as a six-year old that she wanted to come of age in Samoa, finding Philly too tame for her vast ambition.
I did have a period when I was very taken with Amelia Earhart. I started to collect pamphlets about biplanes and wondered how I could buy one. I didn’t necessarily want to fly one. I just wanted to have one.
Writing that seems like a profile in passivity.
I bumped along like this for a long time. Never quite latching on to anything in school, going to the next station on the route, showing up but not doing much more. Being exceptionally average in all ways, looks, social life, school, work. Bump, bump, bump.
And then someone told me I was a good writer. She was an assistant professor at Central Michigan University. The class was in an old building across campus where there was frost on the inside of the leaded windows. I was bundling up to leave, head out across the Mt. Pleasant tundra, as we called it, back to my dorm. Mute after class as I had been during it.
She had folded my paper lengthwise and handed it to me like a menu. Excellent writing, she said, excellent. She’d written the same words on the front page of my paper next to my name. Excellent was next to my name.
Then I wanted to become what she said was excellent.
I think about that now and I wonder how many kids ever know what they want to be. Was I unusual? Was I missing something by only thinking about going outside and riding my bike? Were all the other kids more focused? I don’t know. We never talked about it. My friends never asked me and I never said. My parents never asked me and I never said. Had they asked, I’d have been stuck for an answer.
Until I grew up and did something someone thought was excellent.
Now when I see people doing things that are excellent, I tell them straight away. I try to replicate that snowy day in Mt. Pleasant, pretend that I am someone’s professor. Because I want to give that gift to someone else, the one that sets them in motion and gives them purpose.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Futures Past.” The question: “As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?”
Q: Why didn’t you sleep last night?
A: I don’t have a reason. It just occurred.
Q: What was bothering you?
A: Why does something have to be bothering me? Maybe I woke up just so I could think hard about who Mitt Romney’s running mate was in 2012.
Q: Why not just Google it and then you could’ve gone back to sleep?
A: Because I would have had to look at my phone in the dark, because the light from the phone would have hurt my eyes, because I didn’t want my husband waking up and thinking I was on Facebook at 3:00 in the morning, because I wasn’t 100% sure that Mitt Romney actually ran for President in 2012 or if it was his father George and it seemed like I should settle that in my brain before going further with any investigation, because it was a test of my extraordinary political knowledge which I was failing so it was keeping my awake. A circular situation.
Q: Not a lot of people lie awake nights worrying about who was Mitt Romney’s running mate. There had to be something else bothering you. What was it?
A: Having twins.
Q: Having twins? Seriously? At your age? Oh my, no wonder you couldn’t sleep!
A: Oh for Chrissakes. Not having twins. Having twins visit. Two-year old twins. My grandsons. Boys. That’s not supposed to make a difference, you know, gender neutrality and all, but it does. Cover your ears. Boys will make a sock into a stick they can hit valuable things with, like people and your best wine glasses. And they catapult themselves everywhere. Everything’s an explosion with them. And they only like things that rattle or click or buzz. I fixed that though. I washed all the toys with batteries. Submerged them. No noise for Nana.
Q: You’re sounding a little wicked right now.
A: It’s fatigue talking.
Q: So that’s it? Mitt Romney and twins?
A: No, I also thought a lot about whether Orange is the New Black is done for. I miss Vee. Now, the show seems too jokey. I also thought about my husband’s torn Achilles tendon and wondered if he would ever go on a long hike with me again. That made me pretty sad so I went on to thinking about backing cars into parking spots. When that kind of thinking happens, you know you’re about to fall asleep again. Nonsense thoughts or non-Romney thoughts, the harbingers of sleep.
Q: You know you wrote this whole post about being awake in the middle of the night. Who do you think even cares if you were awake and couldn’t sleep?
A: Beats me, Sugar. I was just sitting here minding my own business until you showed up with your list of questions. As if I was the only soul awake last night, like there weren’t little iPhone lights gleaming all over North America, like people weren’t Googling chicken recipes to use the leftover coconut milk in the refrigerator or hunting down their now-ancient prom date on Ancestry.com. There’s a whole community of us, dear heart. We just lay low and wait for morning.
Q: Anything else you want to add? Any last words for your audience?
A: Those are my last words. Or maybe, these are them.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Groupthink.”
I keep a catalog of 180’s in my office. I use my red file folders and label each file in pencil, preserving, therefore, the opportunity to do another 180 by erasing the label and creating a new one. I don’t think it’s a crime to reverse myself. I just need to keep track of it.
Most of my 180’s are about people although some are about the utility of daily exercise and carbs. Are carbs good? Should I load them? Or should I eschew them, so to speak, not let that poison in my body for a single glutinous moment? I change positions on this, weekly,sometimes daily, sometimes between breakfast and lunch where only a tortilla or bread can hold the protein that stood alone just hours before. Bacon naked at dawn is lovely, by noon it lies thin and wanting on the plate.
I recently turned against Cheerios. You might think this is not such a big deal but it amazes me every single day. A cupboard moth flew out of the cupboard where the Cheerios are stored and a sixty year involvement with Cheerios just evaporated. Oh, we go way back, me and Cheerios. I remember standing at the stove at my friend’s house, six years old, dumping Cheerios in a cast iron frying pan, frying them in butter and dousing them with a cup full of sugar until they were carmelized and crunchy. Who told us to do this? No matter. It’s history. Done. Cheerios are dead to me.
Just like that. It’s the essential nature of a 180.
The Cheerios phenomenon, as I shall now call it, has happened with people as well. Oh yeah, you might have been all crunchy and buttery at one time but now you are dry and bitter, the black detritus on the bottom of my oven, I saw it just now when a roasted potato slipped off the cookie sheet. You can try washing it off, like I did, but the shadow remains. The dead to me shadow.
There are a couple of people in my life, or not in my life, as it were, right now who are in the Cheerios sphere. They are people who were friends who crossed me, not in a little way, but in a big, public way. They were people who had eaten my cooking, taken advantage of my hospitality, poured applesauce on latkes I had made with my own hands, fried in my own kitchen with the oil splattering on my stove top and staining my shirt. Once or twice, the splatter hit me on my hand and made me wince.
So who does that? Betray someone who has made them latkes? It is unfathomable to me. So I wrote the labels on their red files in ink.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to think that breaks with people are always permanent. I voluntarily orphaned myself at the age of forty, having a falling out with my parents that lasted ten years. Then magically, a 180 occurred, mostly because one of my sons kept harping on wanting to know his grandparents, and I drove, with my husband, six hours to my parents’ home to pick up essentially where we had left off ten years before. That 180 allowed me to talk to my mother before she disappeared into Alzheimer’s, get to know the father who had been working nonstop my entire childhood and have parents again, if only for a short time before they both died. 180’s can be huge flaming shamrocks of luck if you take the time to notice them.
I notice them. I take note of them. I file them. I keep records. Indeed.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “180 Degrees.”