May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

This year, our family celebrates Memorial Day the way we usually do, by trekking across the state to my grandma's house, my mother's hometown.  GrandDad wants to visit old family graves, his first time doing so since Grandmother passed away in February.  We all pile into the car, backtracking back along the highway for an hour to the tiny towns and tinier cemeteries where our relatives lie under rampant May grass.

Mom, slightly more familiar with these names and histories, takes photos of the headstones and the silk flowers we brought to stick in the ground.  I use my phone to take notes, writing down who is buried where in each cemetery we visit.  I make sure to write down how they are related to GrandDad, because the names are already confusing and intertwined with nicknames that Mom and GrandDad use interchangeably.  We stop by old houses where some of these people used to live: all of them aging, past their prime, no longer maintained.

At one cemetery, we turn off a paved county road for a gravel one.  The abandoned church here is the provenance of the church pew in our basement.  Leaving, we continue down the gravel road in a brief detour.  GrandDad tells the story of his uncle Hurley, or one of his acquaintances, who couldn't make it up the steeply inclined hill in his Model T and slid all the way down to the bottom.  I realize that when GrandDad says Model T, he means "as in one of the oldest versions of the car" Model T.

We move on.  Another small, abandoned church and its churchyard.  Here, an immense oak and equally ancient hickory tree stand sentry over the graves, and surprisingly we are not the only car here to visit these plots.  Some of the headstones have only dates from the nineteenth century.  I stand in front of a reddish granite marker with my great-great-great-grandparents' names, GrandDad's grandparents.  The church is locked only with a hook and eye closure, and inside it is undisturbed from apparently the last time it had a service.  The Bible lies open on the lectern; a hymnal is open on the piano and my mother sight-reads old devotions with open chords.  On a side table, a ledger has the offerings collected from the 1960s and 70s; if this is the most recent ledger, the church has been undisturbed since 1978.  On the back wall, a plan of the grave plots has family names penned into tiny rectangles.

When we turn around and head back toward Hannibal and supper, we decide to go to one last place.  Grand View Burial Park hugs the highway, and the entrances are guarded by American flags on tilted white poles.  We reach our part of the cemetery, toward the eastern edge, where our family's plot is.  Mom and I arrange the Hobby Lobby silk flowers in Dad's vase, adding them to the white rose bouquet that Grandma and Grandpa left on their way back from graduation.  We admire Grandmother's plaque, a double-wide with GrandDad's name already inscribed next to her, something that strikes me as a bit morbid but also strangely practical.  I take photos of the graves, angling the camera and crouching on the ground to get the perfect shot of my aunt's flower arrangement draping gracefully over the marble and brass designs.

I remember.

May 29, 2010

So ends four years

What am I supposed to write here?  I feel obliged to put forth some sort of thought on this transition: the walking across the stage for the Arts & Sciences recognition ceremony, the procession behind the ArtSci banner in full regalia to a peppy, baroque or perhaps classical air into the quad--and yet, despite feeling like I should feel more, I think I have already felt it.  This transition from undergraduate to graduate, student to alumna, has taken the entire semester, if not the entire year.

I went through all the stages of grieving: Denial, with a brief Angry interlude directly following, when graduation seemed aeons away from the present moment and the only thing I was concerned with was finishing my thesis (was I even going to do so?!) and turning in lab reports; Then, Bargaining, where I tried to reason that graduating would mean nothing, that it would be fine, that I would not lose touch with those I care about or that Milwaukee was not so far away or so cold that no one would ever want to visit me; next, Depression, which came in vast, heaving waves to cover me with paralyzing malaise and unsettled ill will, a roller coaster ride of manic depressiveness where the cramming in of last-minute fun took place side by side with a desire to simply be in the presence of my friends, doing what we always do and simply existing; and finally, Acceptance, which came like a gift on the actual day of Commencement, during the ceremony, where instead of crying (as I had mentally prepared myself to do, despite inadvisedly wearing mascara) I found myself enthralled by the speaker, feeling uplifted and carried forward into the future, this time willingly, this time looking the future in the face and seeing what it is I would become, realizing for not the first time but the first full time that I have, to this point, achieved what I set out to do in my undergraduate career.  All of this took months, and did not pass in a day; and so, as I thought about what it has meant to finish my degree and to be accepted to medical school and to know that I am leaving one place (no, two places--St. Louis as my new-found home and Missouri as my ancestral one) for a completely new locale--I did not know what to say.

Even the goodbyes, such as they were, felt surreal and fake.  A brief hug, a last look at one another, the shrug and the quick upturn of the mouth and the "we'll keep in touch" and "of course I'll visit!" and the wavering suspicion (or fear) that none of us will have time to return to the past to reminisce but must instead move forward to new circles of acquaintances--all of this in the few small instants before the crowds separated everyone, scattering us the way our new lives will do, strangely causing some of us to collide and say goodbye multiple times (I said goodbye twice to Pygeon but it seemed like a waste not to do so and yet also ridiculous, because the other option was to pretend like we hadn't seen one another as we desperately looked for that one last person or group of friends to say goodbye to).  I'd like to think that the fakeness of the goodbyes can be attributed to the sincerity of the friendship: that true friends never really say goodbye but only part ways for a while, but I am pragmatic enough to doubt that kind of optimism (even while my optimistic half certainly wishes it were true).

And then, the chore of packing.  In a way, packing up and the annoyance of sorting through belongings that have been jumbled together for four years already (always in the same general disarray, carefully preserved from year to year and transferred from desk drawer to desk drawer)--this annoyance makes parting all the easier.  When you're grimy and a bit sweaty and tired from sorting through junk that you'll just have to re-sort once you're home, and once you've taken down the posters and the curtains and sold your futon--suddenly the room resembles what it is, a sterile enclosure, one of many nearly identical to it along the hallway, only rented to you for nine months and change.  Then, moving out is a blessing, the carrying of boxes and bags and the flinging of them into the back of the car is cathartic, the labor in itself a cleansing rite, the exercise and the strain a physical meditation, a mental separation of past and present that is essentially completed with that last dropping of the key into the little slot, secure in its envelope.

As always, though, there are lingering goodbyes, a last-ditch attempt to see someone before you go away perhaps forever, an almost panicky desperation carefully concealed despite your roughened voice and chirpy optimism.

And then, with a rush, you are away down the parkway toward the highway, and you realize you didn't even turn to look one last time at the sign that says the name of your university or take one last circuit around the campus, because after all of those chores of packing up and goodbye-saying you were simply ready to get on the road because it's a four hour drive for home and you're already stuck in rush-hour weekend traffic.

When you pull into the driveway, and yank the parking break into position, and stumble a bit as your stiff legs swing out of the car, everything is dark and as you walk into the kitchen from the garage you realize that you are home again, but this time it feels stranger than usual and you sort of want a stiff drink but fear that might make you an alcoholic, and besides, your little brother and his friend are there and probably shouldn't be watching you drink (or at the least, shouldn't know where you keep the alcohol).  And then you take a shower, and climb into the guest bed which is now pseudo-yours, and lie awake staring at your eyelids and let the pure exhaustion wipe away whatever sentiments you might have about being graduated, because you feel the same way you did two days ago only more fatigued and in a different bed.

May 28, 2010

Au revoir is not Adieu

J’aurais dû, j’aurais dû, j’aurais dû faire des milliers des choses : t’embrasser, à la point de notre « au revoir », te dire « je t’aime » ou « je t’adore », te prendre par les épaules pour te faire savoir—toutes ces choses que j’aurais dû faire, me restent comme des souvenirs à me plaire, me tourmentent dans mes rêves, me reprochent de ma lâcheté, ma peur.

Mais, au moins on s’est dit « au revoir » au lieu d’ « adieu. »  Entre les amis, les bien aimés, « adieu » ne se dit jamais.  On a parlé des vacances de printemps mais je ne sais pas si ça va être réelle ou pas : je dois une visite aussi à mes amies de toujours, à Chicago ou quelque part.  C’est ridicule de les abandonner pour toi—sauf si nous allons développer cette petite amitié entre nous, pour qu’elle devient plus grande, pour qu’elle soit ouverte comme une fleur sous le soleil en plein air, en plein printemps—

Au moins le français nous reste, notre langue secrète, notre langue d’amitié et d’amour, la langue qui nous lie même de l’un côté du pays à l’autre—


May 15, 2010

In which an alcohol-provoked text message receives a surprisingly good response

Mon cœur était un papillon, tout entouré de soie, mais dès qu’on m’a envoyé ces mots le papillon s’est révélé, tout neuf, tout jeune, comme la plus petite joie qui naquît pour la première fois dans mon esprit.

But with graduation in a week, it's a bit like the goldfish they gave out freshman year at First Friday, where everyone was amused and enjoying the pretty fish and then three days later it starved from having no food and  no place to swim and it died in the bathroom sink, a victim of circumstances beyond its control.

May 10, 2010

Merry Month of May

This is the urge I get in May.

When the sun shines warm against my back, the cotton t-shirt heating like an electric blanket at just the right setting--the temperature seems destined to induce drowsiness and molasses-slowness.  I want to lie in the sun and bask, sun myself and absorb the light and let my skin produce vitamin D.  I want to let go and just be, forget what is around me, to observe but not participate.

May makes me think of solitude, of lying in the grass and reading and sleeping all day and waiting for grief to dissipate like the drops of condensation on a glass of iced tea.  Letting the sun warm up my outsides while my insides are cool, like cucumber and mint and unsweet tea with its mouth-drying tannins.

The sun in May is bright, especially in the crisply springish air, enough humidity to make the air soft but not enough to blunt the sharp blades of light that pierce tree canopies to strobe against the sidewalk.

The urge to write is like a natural spring inside, welling up with a pastoral longing, to describe the way the air feels against my cheeks, my eyelids, the way the world has decided to be green again and is just stepping into the deeply shaded emeralds of summer foliage speckled still with spring's peridot buds.

I wax poetic in my mind and try to decide if this is good or bad, but finally decide that I can't help it, that spring is like a diving board, a Spring board, propelling my spirits upward and out, making me feel magnanimous and caring and in love with the world again.