Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Morning

Kim, my dear friend from college, wrote in the comments on the “Eruptions” post below:

I wondered this morning, when I walked the dog: well, what if any of us had known how to say a single true thing? What would it have been? Though the problem seems to be not-belonging in the social sense, I suspect it would have been truer to discuss not-belonging in the physical sense, the incarnational sense. "Dale," I might have said, "excuse me, but I simply do not know where I am."

October lifts his dark head: his breath is icy in the bedroom when I wake. No telling the time by the light when I wake, now: it's dark whether it's 4:00 or 6:00.

I go downstairs and do the first pass of cleaning up. Sunday is Alan's Dungeons & Dragons day, and his friends bake. Brownies and cookies. They have also been known to make souflees. And always of course an enormous pot of ramen, a dozen packets at once. They do a reasonable job of cleaning up, by young-man lights, meaning they gather all the dishes from the living room and stack them in the kitchen, where, as they know, the dish-fairies will take care of them.

Monday morning is the only morning that all the dishes won't fit in the dishwasher. I go methodically along, emptying yesterday's dishwasher load onto the shelves, yesterday's handwashed recyclables into the recycling bins, loading the dishwasher anew, collecting yesterday's newspaper and putting it in the recycling. I wash some of the stuff that can't go into the dishwasher, but some of it – the big, crusted cookie sheets often daunt me, first thing in the morning – I leave for later. Wipe down the counters, the table, the stove. The mess is confined to the counter to the left of the sink, now, and it can wait till I get back from Tom's. When Martha wakes she'll have clean coffee things and a clean table for breakfast.

I fantasize about tiny houses, or a houseboat on the river: a place that would force us not to accumulate, not to lay things aside for later. I increasingly feel the burden of all these decaying possessions, and a Thoreau-like passion for whittling down to the essentials seizes me. At the same time, I know it runs counter to what we most deeply are: comfortable, expansive, Victorian householders, who like to putter about, who gather sentimental treasures and souvenirs inexorably, who can't stumble across a curious piece of driftwood or an odd colored stone without bringing it home and putting it on the mantel.

And yet, again – I must be out and away, in the morning. I love the comfort of this common roost, I love to gather in the evening like a lot of crows, make a pointless commotion, swap the stories of the day, fiddle and squabble with the bright shiny things we've found, joke and squawk: but in the morning, an hour, even when I alone am awake, is the longest I can stand. Then I must cast off, take to the air, soar alone over the landscape, leave everyone and everything behind.

What if any of us had known how to say a single true thing?

I gave a massage to a young friend, yesterday. Her body was so supple, so undamaged, the tensions so laughably easy to unwind. Everything worked beautifully. It was like an exquisite machine just out of the package. So different from a fifty, sixty, seventy-year old body. The scapulae running free, gliding a handsbreadth in any direction with never a skip or a catch, the head rolling from side to side so smoothly, so easily. It makes you feel like a terrific therapist: you can handle a body like that like a Harlem Globetrotter handles a basketball. Spin it, toss it, roll it here and there; everything works, everything is effective.

She's engaged to be married, to a shaggy, amiable, great bear of a young man. He looked up from the couch, and said, “Ah, you've got a glow!” when she came downstairs. I ached, thinking of all the pain in store for them. Even the blessed lives, the sort I devoutly hope they will have, hurt like hell.

"Dale," I might have said, "excuse me, but I simply do not know where I am."

Only just now, have I realized the connection, realized how much she reminds me of Kim, at that age: all that vitality, all that unrealized power, the thin wrapper of clumsiness, of awkwardness, laid over a deep, fundamental grace. I've known a number of young dragons, now, newly out of the shell. At Breitenbush we met a couple of students of Kim's – she teaches voice in Seattle – who spoke of her with something like awe. The awkwardness doesn't fool me for a moment, nowadays.

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