It's late. 3:00 AM on Saturday night/Sunday morning to be exact. I'm NEVER up this late, but I'm listening to music and I'm wide awake. At night it's easy to be somewhere else. I'm physically in my little room where my computer is, but mentally? I'm certainly not bound by these walls. Here is what I've written while I've been listening to music. I'm not sure what made me begin to write this, but my childhood, my past is always just behind my conscious thought. The older I get, the more beautiful are the memories from years gone by.
Favorite glimpses through the strange portal that is the past:
I'm lying in home's backyard. It's finally spring and the sun feels so warm. I'm so young and I know it. I know time is...time is...time is.... a hammer, a metronome.
My radio is AM only, WABC, Dan Ingraham, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, mostly the sky and the high waving green leaves of the trees. A weeping willow, like Medusa's tresses is behind me, and the cottonwood tree with three trunks that sprang from one is next to my house. 7 years old, I climb into the midst of the trunks and span them with my feet and hands until I run out of length, and the tree runs on above me, touching the sky.
The kitchen window is open to the back of the house and my mother is running the water, sounds of cooking, pots clanging, distant conversation. All. Is. Well. There will be good food and iced tea at the table with 3 windows open round about - summer is calling, calling - "hurry up and come back outside - come and play - hurry!". There will be a pink and golden sunset and a hot bath and clean, crisp, fresh white cotton sheets. Sleep sweet, no worries, no fear, windows open to the cool breeze, gentle rustle of dark leaves in the night. Mother and father in the next room, all doors open, the attic fan sucking the curtains in, bringing the smell of rich, wet earth.
I take a book, perhaps "The Secret Garden", perhaps "The Lord of the Rings" - up, up the trees around the corner from our house. I climb above everything, to the branch that cradles me, a V I fit into with my feet against the trunk, leaning against the finer branches with their cushioning leaves. I wait, rapt, for the wind to blow and for the swaying of my perch. The tree carries me in its' arms and rocks me. The air is redolent with the smell of cut grass, warm dirt and pond water. Promise of life life life life - it will never end.
I'm 7, I'm close to the ground. I wonder what it's like to be so high above the earth as my father - will I be dizzy? My legs will carry me anywhere. I'm fast - I can beat the boys at school. I can play "Come Across, " a bloody tag game. Boys on one side of the parking lot that passes for a playground at the ancient stone Catholic grade school I attend. Girls on the opposite side of the lot. In between, a line of taggers. We must run from one side to the other without being tagged. I fall, my knee is bloodied, but I keep on running. I am tough, the wind is in my hair. I fall again and I don't care. It's just a knee. I can still run with the gravel embedded in my skin, glorying in the speed - I can do anything. I can climb trees, pull myself up and swing up, up, up - sure that the maple will accept me. It knows me. I know it does. All the trees I climb know me, and so do the birds that nervously hop on the branches above me, eyeing me sidewise in wonder at first - what is she?
The world, oh the world, has such beauty and such pain.
I walk down Fairlawn to Cherry Street. The sound of cicadas are lazy, but insistent. I turn on Cherry Street and reach the High School field. Across the field, I think about the library, piano lessons, church - and wonder - who am I really? Over the years I walk this same path in search of books, music and God Himself.
Walking while reading my precious library books, using peripheral vision to avoid places where the sidewalk has buckled, giant elm roots lifting the slate slabs to crazy angles.
The Egg Pond, green and mysterious through the chain link fence. Why is it called the Egg Pond? No one knows. It doesn't smell like rotten eggs - it seems there is no reason.
Fall - my bedroom windows open. The sound of rustling leaves, dogs barking and the children down the street playing and shouting faintly.
As always, the world is something I stand aloof from; I am a voyeur of life, looking on, but not involved. Lying on my bed staring out the window, dreaming, dreaming; listening to the sounds of life as the moments pass.
I remember the feeling of running FAST, of the ability to do whatever I thought of - climb, fall, slide - I could sustain it all. I remember a flat stomach, taut and tight, and feeling my hip bones protruding from my skin before I fell asleep at night. My belly was concave, my legs as long as a grasshopper's, my arms brown and strong. I would take off my shoes as soon as my mother wasn't looking and feel the cool, soft grass pushing between my toes.
Try this. Lay lengthwise at the top of a green grassy hill, perpendicular to the bottom. Tuck your arms in and then begin to roll, side over side down the hill. Faster and faster as gravity grabs you, you tumble to the bottom, smelling of the sweet green grass, dizzy, laughing.
Try this. See a strong tree branch above you? Grab onto the trunk and swing yourself up, holding on with arms and hands, until you are astride the branch like riding a horse. Perhaps your sneakered sockless feet dangle down on either side. Someone who didn't see you climb passes below you, not knowing you are above - you remain silent, watching them, not breathing until they have gone.
Try this. Clamber out to the screened porch in the crowded neighborhood you call home. You know there is no home but the one from which you sprang so many years ago. Now. Lay down on a chair and push it back until you are flat. Feel the ache in your joints and the bulge in your belly, but ignore that. Fasten your eyes on the trees that crowd the screening. Smell the warm sun on the grass, listen for the birds. You can't climb and you can't run. You have fear and you don't play - there is no time. Try this then - remember. Remember hard.
My father is 89 now. No longer the father of my youth. He dreams at night that he is striding with long steps across Congress Park in Saratoga Springs. The grass springs beneath his shoes and he is young and strong and purposeful. Everything is ahead of him and there are no limitations, but he simply walks the park and, in his genes, the love of the trees and the grass are being imprinted and passed on to the future. To me.
Try this. Just sit - sit like you couldn't when you were small because you hadn't the patience - sit and watch the bees, the butterflies, dragonflies. See the glint of the sun on their wings and marvel at their colors.
Try this last of all. Yearn. Yearn for forever. For that eternal that God placed in my bones, that has called me more and more insistently as the years pass like blurred markers on the road. He taught me to love the trees. He taught my father. He made my father and He made me. He placed me in that house, in those trees, in that backyard. He has placed me here, longing for Him and for the running of my legs again, the tickle of long stems and flowers brushing them.
God will give my father and I the trees to climb, in the fullness of our knowledge, not limited by these dimensions.
The feelings I put away in the closet during the normal times - they take my breath away. How I love my daughter. She is all grown up - and can someone tell me when that happened? I don't remember. I don't remember her being born, but I do. I don't taste the days of her childhood, but I know they are back there in the closet somewhere.
My God. When I open that closet door. A rush, a swoosh of black, musty, dank air rushes out.
She is 24 years old. Going on 25. When did that happen? Where did she go? She is a part of me, she is indeed a part of the child in the tree, like I am a part of the man walking Congress Park and a part of the young girl who remembers her mother making bread and butter pickles in the fall, in the cold, brisk, bright blue air - and the smell as she entered the warmth of home. Home. Her mother turns from the lined up glass jars full of sliced, marinated cucumber, and asks how the day has gone. "Put your books away and come into the kitchen." 70 years later, Emily closes her eyes and sees the sun on her mother's hair through the kitchen window, smells the vinegar and sugar, pungent in the autumn air.
Richard and Emily.....Susan.....Ashley - God knows us. He is preparing the crisp, clean white sheets of home. He has thrown open the windows of our rooms, in preparation for our arrival. He has made sure there are beautiful trees who will cradle us in their arms, He is in the next room so that we are safe. Forever - and in forever we can all play together.