Everyone Wants to Be Found

evan-with-colander-on-headThat title is the tagline from a movie you loved. You remember it as “Everyone wants to be known,” but when you looked it up today you found that you were wrong.

Found, not known.

You thought of this line today  as you finished reading a book that you loved. It was one of those novels that you wished would just keep going, and as the pages dwindled you pushed yourself faster and faster on the porch swing, angry because you knew it was going to end.

You thought you knew how the story itself was going to end, but you were wrong about that too. At first you were stunned, and then you were resigned, and then you began to appreciate it.

The book was, at heart, about being seen. Known. Found.

You lay (laid? something else you can’t seem to get straight) on the porch swing, and suddenly you remembered something else, a look in someone’s eyes.

This was a long time ago, during the winter Olympics, a year in which Russian ice skaters dominated the news. You were at a party of some kind, and a writer you had studied under was also there.

(This writer wrote only one or two sentences on your stories, at the end. He rarely line-edited, except to underline a phrase he liked or squiggle-line something he didn’t like. He was, in retrospect, the only truly helpful writing teacher you had. There was something about those one or two sentences; they got to the heart of the matter. Also, he left you alone. He let you be. He knew what you were trying to do and he defended you fiercely against others who didn’t.)

This writer was from Russia. He spoke English well, with a strong Russian accent. At some point during the party you were talking with someone about the  Olympics, and you said something about Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, using their full names and pronouncing them as best you could.

It was at that moment that the writer turned around from his own conversation, dipping his head swiftly toward you, and met your eyes. There was a look in them, those dark brown eyes, that you couldn’t then decipher. It was gone immediately.

But you always remembered it, that decisive moment, the way he caught and held your eyes – there was surprise in his look, but something more, too. You didn’t understand it.

Now you do.

He, turned to the window and talking to someone else, had heard his language being spoken. Just a few words, but still, the language of his birth, his childhood, his heart.  He had turned and looked at you in surprise and longing – he loved his country and he was far, far away from it.

You understand now because you’re older, and you too have been far, far away. Moments like his have come for you too.

When you get off the plane in upstate New York, and you hear that familiar flat “a” upstate New York accent, and you see the flannel,  and the John Deere hats. The first time it happened you went weak in the knees with relief. You could talk again. You weren’t conscious of yourself all the time. You didn’t have to hold yourself in, hold yourself back. You were home.

Home, where you can sit in the diner with your father and Dwight and Charlie and John and the other John,  and the waitress will come over and pour their coffee without asking and bring them their personal jar of strawberry jam.

Home, even unexpectedly, such as the first time you walked down the street in Taiwan and saw everyone crouching, squatting on their haunches, to read the paper, drink tea, talk with their neighbors – the way you had crouched all your life. Only before, you were the only one.

Everyone wants to be known.

Everyone wants to be found.

Once, you and your dog had a terrible day. This was in your first months together, and he had misbehaved in every possible way. You were so, so tired of reprimanding him and training him and trying to work with him, to no avail. He was tense and on edge and only getting worse.

You looked at him and saw his small body, his black curls, his legs rigid and his eyes bright and wary. You knew, somehow, that he was trying as best he could. Something in you changed and you said, “Come here, come here, sweet boy,” in a changed tone of voice.

His entire body relaxed immediately. His ears and head lowered, he trotted to you and looked up at you and let himself be stroked and spoken to soothingly.

Everything was different from that point on. For a moment, he had been seen, known. Found.

Once,  in the classroom, a student read his work aloud. It was a strange piece of writing, unlike the writing that had come before. Indefinable, uncategorizable. Flawed, but there was something enormous and wonderful in it, and from the feeling in the air of the room you sensed that you were the only one who knew that.

After a silence, others in the class spoke carefully, trying not to offend, trying to offer up something constructive. You watched the writer deflate, slump, gradually pull himself into himself. You held up your hand.

“This is a very fine piece of writing,” you said. “Let me tell you some of the reasons why.”

You started to talk, slowly, pointing this out, and that out, and reading aloud particular passages. You watched the student come alive again.

You think of your friend, at 22, standing in the subway in Boston, wearing her red shirt and gray coat.  She was waiting for her boyfriend. People swirled around her, walking,  dawdling, running for their trains.  She leaned back against the wall, watching.

A man, an older man in a suit, a businessman sort of man, emerged from the crowd and walked right up to her.

You, he said, pointing at her with his finger and looking straight at her, are beautiful.

That was it. He walked away and she never saw him again. But he comes back to her every now and then, and she sees herself again as he might have seen her, back on that day, in that moment.

Once, when you yourself were a small girl, and lonely, and holding everything inside, watching the world around you, a man said to your mother about you, “She’s got it.”

He was talking about you. You couldn’t have explained what he meant, and you still can’t. But those  words have stayed with you all your life.

Everyone wants to be found.

You May Find Yourself in a Beautiful House

condo-dining-roomShe had a dream last night that she’s had on and off for the last ten years.

The dream goes like this: She’s in a house that she lives in and knows intimately.

But she discovers a whole new part of the house that she never  knew existed, and she goes through it, exploring, and wondering at all the space that has been there, all this time, unbeknownst to her.

The original dream always takes place in a dream-created house, a perfectly round house with bedrooms off the central round hallway. The dream-created round house has a thatched roof and seems to be built up in the air – on stilts, maybe? and it is always dark and cool and shady in the dream-created round house. And the previously undiscovered section is full of sheet-covered furniture and dust.

But last night’s dream was a variation on the original house dream. Last night’s dream took place in a house she used to own, a small white stucco house that she lived in for ten years.

This was the house on Girard Avenue, the one in which she lived before she was married and after she was married, the house she was pregnant in, the house to which she brought two babies home from the hospital and then another one from a far-off land.

It was a small house, a bungalow, and all the rooms were small. Two small bedrooms in the back of the first floor, two more upstairs. A bathroom on the main floor. A tiny kitchen with no dishwasher. She used to do four sinkfuls of dishes a day, back then, when the babies were all babies and toddlers.

Over time, they added a room and a very small slanted-ceiling bathroom upstairs. They finished part of the basement. They redid the tiny kitchen and added a dishwasher and a new refrigerator.

They sold the small house and moved to a bigger one, which conversely had fewer rooms, although they were much larger, and which, strangely enough, did not have as much room for guests.

Since that larger house she has moved four times, despite the fact that she loathes moving, and now she lives in another house entirely, an interesting house in the same neighborhood.

She has always lived within six blocks of that very first small house. She’s tried, during the four-move-era, to force herself to move to a different neighborhood (cheaper, closer to children’s friends, etcetera), but she can’t. She loves her neighborhood, what can she say. She’s rooted here.

The old small house is only three blocks from the house she lives in now, and sometimes, when she’s out walking her dog, she walks past it. Twice now, in the past three months, she has seen the family that bought it coming out of the front door.

She and the wife of the family recognize each other and smile and wave when this happens. The children of the family, unborn when their parents bought the house, are now twelve and ten.

But back to last night’s dream. In it, she was back in the small house on Girard Avenue. Everything was the same as it had been when she left the house and she greeted each room with a combination of loneliness and happiness: oh, here you are again, and here you are too, you’ve been here all along, hello, hello.

Except that there were more rooms. There were five bedrooms on the main floor alone.

And there was a whole wing to the house,  a wing that she had never before noticed – a spacious living room, a family room, another room-room, two bedrooms down a hallway, and a large bathroom. She wandered through this wing, admiring all the space and wishing so much that she had known about it when she lived in this house. She never would have moved, had she known.

The two additional bedrooms were messy. Linens needing to be changed, comforters thrown in a heap, no decorative efforts whatsoever. Same with the big bathroom. All that could easily be changed, though. A few weekends of garage sales and flea markets and thrift stores – her favorite activities – and this whole new big wing would be transformed.

And then there would be so much space. So much space for anyone who wanted to live there or come visit. Plenty of room and privacy for her parents, her sisters, her brother, her  nieces and nephews, her far-off friends – anyone. Come visit!

She woke up.

Why does she keep having this dream? One of her sisters writes down every dream she has, the minute she wakes up. This is a good idea, she thinks, so here she is, writing down this particular dream.

Does the dream mean that there is more room in her house and mind and heart than she thought? Has she ignored all the space and place that’s been there all along?

She wants those empty rooms. Every time she wakes from this dream she wants,  wants, wants all that space. But if it’s there in the dream then it must already be here, somewhere, in life, right? There must be an invisible door somewhere, a door that she can press on and then twirl through to find all that calm and peaceful and empty space.

How can she find that door?

You may find yourself  in a beautiful house. You may ask yourself, how did I get here?

Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)

delphiniums-2010See those flowers to the left there, depicted in my usual crappy cell-phone photo way?

You, unlike me until early this morning, probably knew immediately that they were delphiniums.

You, unlike me, would probably have remembered that three years ago you chose a packet of perennial flower seeds the way you choose most packets of flower seeds – because they are perennials (why not get the most bang for your buck?) and because of the beautiful non-cell phone photo on the front of the packet – and planted them haphazardly along the side of your garage and then forgot all about them, including their name.

That first year, when I was still in possession of all my faculties and remembered that I had in fact planted the seeds, I was annoyed but resigned that the beautiful blue flowers did not grow.

Why should they have grown, that was my attitude. I had just dug up that particular patch of dirt – I am gradually digging up my entire lawn – and in the process struck all manner of rocks and chunks of cement (lots of chunks of cement in that particular part of the lawn). It was not a hospitable place for man or beast, let alone flowers, and I scattered the seeds down and paid no more attention to them.

That  was the year – three years ago – that I planted all kinds of other perennials too, here there and everywhere, most of them plants that came from a half-price, originally 2-for-$.50 sale  – you do the math, but if you don’t want to let me just tell you, that’s less than fifteen cents apiece – at a church rummage sale and were half-dead when I bought them.

But they sprang to life, wildly, every one of them, and since they were not labeled when I bought them I had the pleasure of figuring out what they were as they grew. They grew so wildly, and they continue to grow so wildly, back there in the rock-and-cement dirt patch, that they’re making me nervous.

Are they, like, mutant flowers? If I don’t dig up the rest of the lawn soon (I live in a big city; it’s a tiny city backyard) they will begin to eat themselves. It will be a plant Donner party.

But back to the delphiniums. Because that’s what they are, and thank God I obeyed my instincts and did not pull them up when I was weeding the other day, because I went outside this morning to behold them in all their splendor.

Those delphiniums (delphinia? that seems logical but I don’t like the look of it) are huge. They’re taller than me by at least a foot, and I’m 5 foot 10.25 inches. Yes,  that’s right, the quarter-inch must not be forgotten.

Are they always that giant, or are mine just freakazoids? Luckily for all of us, this sort of question is just what the internet was invented for. In the last five minutes I  have learned that delphiniums are also known as larkspur, that they are beloved in England, that they can grow between six and eight feet tall, that they need to be staked, which I had already figured out, but instead of a careful tri-corner cage thing as described in various websites I just shoved a broken pitchfork handle into the ground and strung up the stems with a discarded birthday present ribbon, and that every bit of a delphinium plant is extremely poisonous – do not drink anything with delphinium in it, and for God’s sake do not eat even a single leaf of it, as you will vomit and/or die.

There is also, apparently, some sort of rivalry – snobbery? – going on between those gardeners who favor English delphiniums over the more common and no doubt lower-class varieties and those gardeners who will go to their deaths defending the rights of the underprivileged.

That delphinium pictured above could be transplanted British royalty or a single mother living in transitional housing and working three jobs to keep her children fed and clothed. It does not matter to me, as I, being the queen of garden haphazardness, have no idea which variety I have.

This frees me to love that delphinium for itself, even though it is taller than me, and I generally like to be the tallest.

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

03_slides_043Last weekend she found herself behind the wheel of a medium-sized automobile, driving north an hour and a half from Westchester County Airport to Route 22. She had a sheaf of directions with her, because she had only been to the cemetery, Irondale Cemetery, once.

“It’s a quick left,” she had been told. “Keep a sharp eye out. We usually miss the entrance and have to turn back.”

She kept a sharp eye out. On the way up Route 22 her sharp eye saw a sign on the left that read “McGhee Hill,” so she spun around and took the left. She remembered being a child, and asking her grandfather why that road was  named McGhee Hill.

“Because I live there,” he said.

He was washing up after his chores, at the little sink in that dark back entryway. Lava soap. Coveralls. Washing the manure and hay and dairy farm smells off his hands, splashing water over his balding head. How many times did she see him wash up after chores?

She took the left and she was determined to find the old farm, which was still there. She drove up and down a couple of times, searching for the driveway. But she couldn’t find it.

She did drive all the way to the top of McGhee Hill, and there she found the modern house that her grandparents had built when they sold the farm, long ago, when she was ten years old.

Her grandmother had loved the new house: it had an electric stove, as opposed to a woodburning one. It had wall to wall carpeting, as opposed to linoleum and  hardwood floors. Everything in the old house was old, and everything in the new house was new, and her grandmother loved new.

Someone had built a small white house directly next to her grandparents’ modern white house. It did not look right.  She was annoyed, and she reminded herself that her grandparents had not lived there for many years, and that whoever owned the house now had a perfect right to build a small white house directly next to it.

Maybe it was a son or daughter, living there next to them. She thought about that. What would it be like to live directly next to your parents?

She drove back down McGhee Hill and took a left onto Route 22 and continued north.  She kept a sharp eye out for the cemetery and she did not even have to backtrack.

In she drove, down the dusty dirt road, peering for the markers. So many McGhees in this cemetery, good Lord. Who knew there were this many McGhees anywhere, all spelled correctly, with the “h” that gives pause to so many?

Oh, but there were her grandparents, the both of them together.

She parked down the way a bit and walked back. She was the only person in  the cemetery. She sat down on her grandmother’s grave and brushed the few blades of mown grass and leaves from the sunwarmed  tops of the low markers. This was a well-kept cemetery; there was nothing for her to clean or pluck or tidy.

It had not been that many years since she stood here watching them lower the casket into the ground at her grandmother’s funeral. It had been much longer since her grandfather’s funeral, a funeral that she missed and will always regret missing.

She spent the next hour talking to her grandparents and watching the squirrels running up and down the nearby tree. She thanked her grandparents for loving her exactly as she was and for giving her so many happy memories.

She remembered their dog, Jody, whose clownish black and white face she could conjure so vividly. Every night her grandmother had stirred the leftovers of the evening together in a large clean pan, Jody’s frying pan, and made a rich gravy to cover them, and set it down outside for Jody’s dinner. Her grandmother had been an incredible cook. Jody ate what they ate, and he was a happy dog. Why wouldn’t he be?

It was getting late and she still had a long drive ahead of her, almost four hours further upstate, to where her parents lived and where she had grown up. She went back to her car, but she didn’t want to leave her grandparents yet.

So she took out her Wallace and Gromit stationery and wrote her grandmother a note. Her grandmother would have liked that stationery. She would have liked it better if it were covered with little flower and star and heart stickers, but she herself is not the type to carry around flower and star and heart stickers.

She sealed the Wallace and Gromit envelope and went back to her grandmother’s stone. This was an extremely well-kept cemetery, and whoever kept it so well would not approve of a letter left on top of the stone. He – she was certain it was a he – would remove such a letter immediately.

So she folded it into a slender lozenge and tucked it down into the dirt behind the stone. She arranged a few leaves over it in a haphazard-looking manner. With any luck, the letter would remain where it was until the rain and snow dissolved it.

As she left, she asked her grandmother please to stay with her, and to give her a sign that would let her know she was there.

Back into the car she went, and north she drove. As she is a woman of diners, who has spent her life eating in them whenever possible, she stopped at the  West Taghkanic Diner in Hudson, New York. She partook of the pot roast dinner special, which came with a cup of split pea soup, and she finished it off with a large slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie.

The extremely nice young waiter talked to her for a long time. She revealed to him that she had always dreamed of a) converting a classic diner into a home that she could live in, or b) living on a moored houseboat, or c) living in an Airstream.

He told her about another classic diner, the Diamond Street Diner in the next town up. The Diamond Street Diner was currently for sale, he said, and he sketched out a map so that she could check it out for herself.

What would it be like, she wondered, to sell everything, move to upstate New York, convert a classic diner into her house, and begin a brand-new life?

Since this would require her to leave her children, something which would kill her, she quickly adjusted the dream, as follows: What would it be like to sell everything once her children were all grown up, move to upstate New York, convert a classic diner into her house, and begin a brand-new life?

She drove on,  north and north and north, through the tiny towns, around the winding roads, until she was driving into the driveway of her very own house, where her father was watching the Yankees on a muted television, her mother was next to him playing solitaire on the computer, and their sweet dog was waiting to jump on her.

Over the next few days she went to the diner with her father, planted a food shelf garden with her mother, sat on the porch, watched the Yankees and cheered for the other team, walked around the 5.8 mile block, petted the dog, and talked with her parents.

A hummingbird kept buzzing up to the feeder, alighting, then buzzing away. Her mother encouraged her to get a hummingbird feeder of her own, and told her the recipe for hummingbird feeder water: two cups water, a quarter-cup sugar, bring it to a boil and keep it in the refrigerator.

She agreed that it would be an excellent idea to have one of her own. She pictured it hanging outside her front porch, where she could sit on the swing and watch the hummingbirds buzzing up to it.

On each of her walks around the block, the cows grazing in the pastures came running up to her. Have you ever seen a herd of running cows? Truly, it’s not a common sight, at least in her experience.

“Why are you running to me, cows?” she asked them. “I have nothing for you. I am a peaceful hiker with no ill intentions.”

She told her parents that the cemetery was in good shape. They told her that they would be driving down there themselves, for the funeral of another McGhee, one that she herself remembered from her childhood visits to her grandparents.

“There’s a hell of a lot of McGhees in that cemetery,” she informed them, and they agreed. There certainly were a hell of a lot of McGhees there.

On her way around the 5.8 mile block, she stopped in at the little cemetery down the dirt road. There was her childhood friend’s stone, the first boy she ever kissed, in the barn, during a game of Truth or Dare. Someone had put a teddy bear on top of his gravestone.

There was the grave of her sister’s classmate, buried here in the tiny cemetery next to his family farm. Someone had placed a small red tractor on top of his stone.

She had asked her grandmother for a sign, and she kept looking for one. She didn’t see any, but she didn’t feel alone and sad about it either.

Then she thought of the running cows, and the hummingbirds. She thought about the squirrels at the cemetery, and how her grandmother’s nickname had been Squirrel. None of these were signs, and yet all of these were signs, weren’t they?

Abide with me, grandmother.

And that was her Memorial Day weekend.