Friday, August 24, 2007

Southern Sky

The southern sky fell from blue softly into purple, a calyx holding the blossoming moon. I sat on the stone steps of East-West college and did a minute or two of shamatha, then looked at the building to the north: its west-looking windows were exactly the color of the sky, so that it looked like there were empty holes in it: it reached ragged and uncertain arms into the air. It looked like a chance breeze might blow it away.

A young woman from my modalities class came out, and sat down on the steps. Not exactly beside me: one step up and five feet over. I was reminded of the precise way some birds space themselves when settling on a wire. "It's beautiful tonight," I said.

I meant everything, but she took me to mean the moon. "It will be full in about a week, I guess," she said. "At the end of August? Maybe." She furrowed her brow.

"Mm," I agreed.

This was the young woman who had once reported dressing up to stand in line at Powell's, waiting for midnight so she could buy the last Harry Potter book, and who had cried twice while reading it. It seemed important to her now to figure out exactly when the moon would be full, but I couldn't help her -- I didn't know. Maybe it was just important to fill in the silence.

Lana came out the door, in the slightly breathless way she often has. I stood up at once, regretting the faint rudeness. It's become our routine for Lana to give me a ride home, and apparently this wasn't to be one of the nights when she lingered to smoke a cigarette and hang out with the guys, and put off, for a few stolen moments, returning to being the mother of a four-year-old. She was moving briskly tonight, and I fell in step with her, turning to smile at the Harry Potter fan and murmur "g'night."

"Good night," she smiled back, a distant smile; dismissing us with some mixture of amusement and disappointment. Possibly she thinks Lana and I are an item. She reminds me sharply of Tori's partner -- catlike in her singlemindedness, in her devotion to comfort and pleasure, and her directness. There are a lot of people of that ilk in massage -- the Asperger's strain, as I think of it. They're not interested in observing conventions; they're not terribly appropriate; they dress haphazardly in whatever's handy. I feel at home with them. Fellow-geeks.

Lana drove us through the dusk. She stopped abruptly at the crosswalk from the grocery store, on Belmont, for a couple young women walking, not quite in the crosswalk, across the street. Strutting, almost. They didn't turn to look at us. Slender, haughty, dressed to kill; in their early twenties.

"I guess maybe I was like that at that age," said Lana. "You think you own the world. Before I had a kid, you know."

Lana's not yet thirty. I love the way she converses with her four-year-old, when we pick her up on the way home -- it's real conversation, they confide in each other. I know so well, though, the strange dislocation and alienation of having children. Suddenly everyone thinks of you differently. Your time is no longer your own. You find that your availability, as a nonparent, had more to do with all your relations than you thought it did. You're no longer in play; your place is fixed. The rest of the world goes on without you.

I wanted to articulate something of the wistful reassurance that rose up in me, but no words came. And after all, it's a long strange road with an uncertain end, being a parent. I wasn't sure I really had anything to say. "Better to get over it now, instead of twenty years from now -- over the fact that so much of what we thought was our personal charm was just our availability" -- not such a reassuring thing to say. I held my tongue.

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