She liked to curl up in the lap of their crossfire.
It didn’t matter what was said. Those three guys knew how to talk, and she knew how to listen.
Sitting on the fringes, yes, but that was all right. She didn’t trust herself to keep up with them. It was a gift of sorts to observe. Besides, they wanted to make her laugh, and she was happy enough to oblige. For these poets and friends were a little smarter, and far funnier, than any trinity she had ever known. And in that dank hole of a living room, with its stuffed ashtrays and sooty carpet, they invented new, more absurd maths.
New…all so new. And not so always comfortable. She loved the man in the center of the room, but everything around him was so different from what came before. He was different, too. And so her time in this house triggered a meltdown of false expectations, a Picasso breach of perspective, a spinning dance. Sometimes, her eyes hurt from the whiplash.
(And weeks later, it would indeed become the car crash on Congress Street. All of the friends limping away, hugging bruised egos and hearts.)
But right then—right at this green-go convergence of crossroads—there was Chet Baker wetting the stereo, Carl Jung to consult on the coffee table, and a whole bible of words to smoke and burn before the happy warriors scattered into the night.
She listened. Night after night.
And even though she wouldn’t pick up her own pen until much later, she sometimes thinks that these were the weeks in which she became a writer.
Yes, I'm as corny as Kansas in August. As high as a flag on the Fourth of July.
For I'm still in love with the musical.
The love affair began with an old Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire pic. I watched Holiday Inn about a hundred times throughout elementary school, before moving onto the slightly saucier Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers pairing in Top Hat.
Then came Julie Andrews electrifying those hills in The Sound of Music. Sweet Edelweiss! The obsession deepened. My friend and I made up our own lyrics to Do-Re-Mi (Ray--a name you call a guuuuuuy!) in middle school. My bedroom walls sprouted posters of My Fair Lady and The Phantom of the Opera. From that point until college, I was basically lost to modern music.
Smells like Teen Spirit? Whatever. I had no need for irony.
And maybe that's the point.
Musicals are escapist by nature. They’re not interested in the literal reflection of reality. Rather, musicals scrounge whatever sincerity they can from our world and tack it to the loftier longings of our ideals. It's a bridge as ephemeral as moonlight, but as potent, too. When characters’ emotions are so intense and driving that they cannot be contained in mere speech, they must be exorcised through song. What a beautiful, generous transparency to share that nakedness with another person! To be that corny, and not blink.
Which is why I kept watching, and listening. I wanted a part of the emotional bloodletting. A stage without self-consciousness. A purer state of being...yes. But also one in which the sunny optimism of Mitzi Gaynor from South Pacific could drain into the dark, desperate hope of Tony and Maria in West Side Story.
People are more in musicals. But they are still fundamentally true. There is brightness, and darkness.
And Somewhere, at least, we can slide across that spectrum without a second thought, or the slightest guffaw.
I am pleased (okay, thrilled!) to announce the newest sprout in our corner of the blogosphere: Life is Beautiful.
The blog is the creation of Aine Evans, the resident night owl at Jason Evans' The Clarity of Night. For those of you who have had Aine comment on your blogs, you'll know to expect a wealth of warmth, insight, and understanding at her new daytime digs. I have been lucky enough to develop a friendship with Aine over the past few months, and well, I've been waiting for this moment. :)
So hop on over to Life is Beautiful to wish Aine well, and stay to discuss her latest post on personality types! Whether you're an INTP or an INFJ (trust me, you'll want to find out), I know you'll discover a fresh perspective and a generous heart.
“Some people say she couldn’t stop looking to her past. And eventually froze like that.”
“Kind of like Lot’s wife.”
“Except bronze, not salt.”
“There’s the one where she’s gazing toward her lost love. Waiting until he comes for her. Waiting to become flesh again.”
“I like that one better. Sad, though.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think that’s it.”
They stretched out on the bench, watching some squirrels gather nuts.
“Here’s what I think.”
“Have you heard of Zeno’s Paradox?”
“It sounds familiar, but . . . ”
“Well, Zeno’s Paradox is the mathematical equivalent of paralysis. It’s the idea that there are an infinite number of fractions between Point A and Point B. So imagine reaching the halfway mark between the two points. But then there's a halfway mark of the distance still remaining, and another halfway mark beyond that . . . and so on. Creating new infinities with every step, you see.”
“So the cruel joke, of course, is that you can never get to Point B in a finite amount of time—say, a lifetime—because when looking out over the road to travel, you face an infinite number of these infinities. In fact—”
A squirrel zipped up a tree, shaking the leaves.
“You can never even take the first step.”
They gathered their backpacks and threw the remnants of their lunches into the trashcan.
“You want to grab some coffee or something before class starts?”
The bricks marked their steps as they strode down the campus walkway.
[Photo of David Hostetler's The American Woman, on the Ohio University campus. The sculpture's plaque reads: Art is Long and Life is Brief.]
Braiding the fringe of the bed's throw, I squeezed between my sister and brother, as Grandma told us that story of catching the paddleboat waves with her canoe. Her salty (read, inappropriate) language always made us giggle, and I breathed in the sharpness of her arthritis ointment as my chin chittered against my chest. Inching closer to her, because I happened to like the smell of Ben Gay. And the way she slung her hand behind her head, revealing that pale, papery skin on the underside of her arm. Even the reflux spasm in her throat—like a constant clicking—became the soothing background noise of those lazy, summer mornings.
Yes, we have to love our grandparents. But how I liked her, too.
Grandma was a fierce protector of those she loved, and fearless in general. When a restaurant didn’t hire my sister as a waitress, she refused to ever eat there again. We made fun of her for it. But she was dead serious. I was once harassed by a mime (yes, a mime) at an amusement park, and she gave the guy such a verbal smackdown that I don’t think he could have talked, even if he’d been willing to break his code of silence.
Sometimes, her intrepidness embarrassed me. As a girl, I’d hide inside a clothes rack in the department store as she argued with the salesperson about an expired discount, or some such thing. Humming slightly, to drown out the agony of such brazenness.
But mostly, I just thought of how much fun it would be to be like her. Bouncing and screaming with her twin behind that boat, as its paddle slapped at the Ohio River. Graduating from college after having her only child, my mom. Celebrating Christmases with my grandfather in Mexico City. . . why not? Feliz Navidad!
She died in 2002. At 91.
And slowly, we forget these details. So many meticulous brushstrokes fade into dull impressions, some warped by the bitter shades of old-age afflictions. And so we point to loved ones’ photographs in albums, telling our kids, That was your great-grandma. She would have loved you so. They look on, only slightly curious, at this stranger frozen in time. And then, because we cannot explain a person’s life in so few words, with so little time, we flip the page. The lump in our throat all packed away.
But last night, those precious details returned. I felt the slickness of her palm pressed to my own. That familiar hand, all veins and joints. We walked together under a starry, museum sky, and she told me that she loved me. Or I told her. I can’t quite remember, but the word love stamped itself inside my head. And was bursting from me when I awoke.
So today, that lump in the throat has free reign. Not because I lost her again. For even while dreaming, there was the awareness that our time was fleeting. But because I received the bittersweet gift of knowing her again.
And this chance to keep her alive a little bit longer.
Dedicated to Elinor Luttrell: Grandma, anti-mimeite and wave rider.