How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumn Again

It is a perfectly beautiful, calm October day. My little Maltese dog, Truman, is curled asleep on the floor where a streak of sunlight is warming his nine year old bones.  There is vegetable soup simmering on the stove, full of potatoes, corn, leftover peas, and plump skinless tomatoes. I am dressed in my “doing jack-shit” uniform: a boys’ size 14 striped button up shirt, jeans, and fuzzy socks.  The entire day is unfolded in front of me and I have no idea what to do with it. Should I read? Maybe clean the bathroom?  Or perhaps write that long overdue letter to my sister-in-law? I don’t feel like doing any of it. I just feel like being in the right now without having any tasks, enjoyable or not to take up my time. Time, which as I near fifty is becoming more precious, that I waste.
            I waste it by sitting on the front porch listening to the sounds of small town traffic that echoes from two blocks over and the slam of house doors down the street. I waste it by staring out the window in my study wondering if the bird sitting on the mulberry bush can see me. I waste it reading the news that never seems to change. I waste it thinking about what I want to do with the fifth part of my life, knowing that often plans come to nothing.
            Life is broken down in sections or parts. No one has the same amount. Some people have three, some as many as ten. It is all dependant upon how many times people reinvent themselves, shedding old skin like a captive boa in a pet shop.  I happen to be entering my fifth part. It is the first time I have been aware of the parts.  I didn’t count them before, the way I do now.
            In the first part of my life, I was a child. No worries except if Bennie was going to find me in the game of hide and seek, or if mom and dad had bought me that new doll for Christmas. In my sesond  part of life , I rode the wild teen years, trying to fit in, coughing and laughing as I sent a tightly rolled joint down the line at a Ted Nugent concert, wondering if Kent really did like me. Fast forward to my third incarnation- motherhood and marriage. Giving birth to and raising three children, loving every minute being with my children,  aching for a full night’s sleep, keeping watch whenever illness struck, watching as they grew and changed a bit more each day, trying to be a good wife and severely  failing. The fourth part of my life was all mine. Going back to school earning a degree, diving head first into a career in teaching, being inspired by my profession and then becoming disillusioned, seeking better, and building a new life with a good man..
            I thought each part of my life would last forever. Now those lifetimes seem like someone else’s. Each separate, each distinct. Each belonging to four different people. People I don’t know. I lift the quilt that covers the small bed in my study and from underneath the bed I drag out a cardboard box.  It holds the various photographs that I keep promising I am going to organize. I plunder through the photos, and time slips through my fingers. Each of these lifetimes is memorized in photographs. Here is a photo of me pregnant with my third child, my wedding to the childrens' father, my high school graduation, my three children dressed for Halloween, my daughter’s first Christmas, my ninth grade school photo with braces shining. The photos are strewn on the floor, and the concept of linear time breaks down and instead begins to exist like the photos. Scattered, unevenly, like a haphazardly unwound ball of yarn. 
            I scour flea markets when I am in one of my moods that doing nothing cures.  I have a distinct affinity for old postcards and photographs. I buy the ones that capture my eye- for fifty cents, a dollar. . Some of the  postcards are etched on back with handwritten sentiments that mystify and entertain me. “We are in Washington today and going to New York Wednesday. Love Uncle Bill” (1937), “The luaus and shows are something to see. Don Ho show tomorrow” (1974), “No horses are here they are all illegible. No place for you here J.S.H” (1915).   
            I turn them over, study the pictures, turn them back over, reread the message. Why was Uncle Bill in Washington? Was the trip for pleasure or business?  
            Was the Hawaii trip a honeymoon for a newly married couple? If so, were they happy? Did they stay married? Have children?
            Why was it so important that there were no horses in Washington, D.C, and why is there “no place” there for the recipient of the postcard?
            The postcards give me a glimpse into lives lived so long ago. I can almost hear their voices in the writings, and each life..
            As for the photographs, I never buy them. I can’t bear to separate them from their nestled boxes or scratched frames, or the common smell of time that pervades the places that sell lives outlived.  I merely look at the photographs, scanning the faces to see if I can decipher any emotion. I study the clothing, the backgrounds, and the eyes of the subjects. Are the people shown long gone and nothing more than the images they have left behind, or do they still exist somewhere in that ball of unwound yarn? What does that hand resting on that young woman’s back mean? Why is the old man looking at the younger one that way?  Whose car is that the woman is leaning against? Is the young man in the World War II uniform coming back or going to war? The stories are lost. The people frozen in sepia tones or flat black and white.
            What will become of my photographs after I am gone? Will a restless woman, starting to realize the preciousness and instability of the years, thumb through my photographs one day and wonder? Will she look into my frozen in time eyes and attempt to translate a portion of my life?  Will she note the ring on my left hand or the way my gaze is off to the side, pulled at the last moment of photographic capture by the voice of my granddaughter?  Will she perceive the questions etched into the lines on my face and feel a kinship? Will she sigh, go back to her life, sit on a porch, stare into the color of her life and attempt to become a part of the sounds around her, the way I do?
            It is a perfectly beautiful, calm October day.  It is a fifth chance to be me.

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