DATE: 7/20/2004 11:01:00 AM
In my life I've loved them all*"Right now I wish it was the autumn so I could have an excuse to feel this way"--Andy
Drizzle. Streets gleaming black in the wet. Leaves hanging at crooked angles on the trees. Today is a nostalgic day.
For some reason this halfhearted rain, the grumbling clouds unsure whether to darken to thunderheads or part to the sun, the whisper and hush of tires over the damp ground, take me elsewhere. Like a smell from childhood, the humid air connects me to the many places I have left behind.
Four years old. We pull up in front of our new house. We had to give the dog away when we moved. Mickey the beagle knocked me over at every opportunity she got, and so I am secretly glad she is gone. I ask our new phone number and address. I was proud to know both things at our old house. We spend much of the next few days tearing down the atrocious wallpaper in the new house. The weather was exactly like this that week.
Eight years old. Holding my mother's hand, stepping out of Bradlee's at the Chelmsford Mall. The store's plastic smell clings in my nose, making me dizzy. My mother tells me to hold her hand tighter. She says I should learn to hold hands by the time I grow up and have a boyfriend. Inside the store there was a tiny Cambodian child, lost from his mother, screaming while the workers in their maroon vests looked on helplessly. He spoke no English, and they spoke no Khmer. Swearing never to find myself in the same situation, I make my mother teach me the only other language she knows. Once we're at home she teaches me Parle vous francais? and Je suis perde. Or was it perdue? Days like that we had soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper.
Twelve years old. Standing on the sidewalk on Dalton Road, waiting for the school bus. It's October. The leaves carpet the ground, bitter orange.
Sixteen years old. Getting off the bus at the high school, black Dior coat bought at a thrift store, men's black steel toed construction boots, electric blue tights under black seamed fishnets under a silver velour skirt, NIN shirt, black, long-sleeved, thick eyeliner, purple lips. A mug in my hand. Wishing I drove to school instead of taking the Cheese Wagon. Heading for honors classes despite my getup. Cranberry juice in the mug. I don't drink coffee yet.
Twenty years old. The Orchard Hill residence area is abandoned in the rain. The Fine Arts Center is even uglier than usual in weather like this, weeping deep brown streaks down its dun-colored stone walls. The tiles on the FAC pavilion sometimes rock suddenly when you step on them, like a booby trap in an Indiana Jones movie. The stone path across the Isle of You in the middle of the pond is slippery, so you have to grip the blue metal railings, be extra patient with the backpack jouncing along on the back of the person in front of you, at eye level. Fractal ripples pierce the surface of the pond and ducks quack tunelessly like someone singing in the shower. Smoke clings to the air like blue-gray whisps of thick cotton in front of Bartlett Hall. The slate steps are wet, and there are footprints on the floors inside all the way up to the stairwell.
There were many days like this at UMass.
There were even more in Oxford.
I sit by the memorial to Percy Bysshe Shelley at one of the colleges. He's a pathetic naked figure in white marble, flopped like a dead fish on an ornate pedestal, inside a rotunda depressed from the walkway that surrounds it. Shelley apparently drowned. His statue has ridiculously tiny, delicate genitalia, and I bet his ghost is pissed. Still I spend a few hours alone in the cool, dank memorial building, writing, Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile plugged into my ears like intravenous medicine.
That same day, or a day like it, I happen to see an American sports car, a low rider, steering wheel on the American side, silver, growling down the cobblestoned street, blasting "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me" by Toni Braxton, which is a top hit at this time. It makes me so suddenly homesick that my knees literally buckle; I sit down hard on a damp retaining wall, slumping into the cold arms of a wrought-iron fence.
Other days I watch days like this out the window at Blackwells, Metallica's S & M (the only other CD I can stand) rattling my skull, reading dusty used books about Queen Elizabeth I.
Twenty-four years old. Today. The Hillman Morning Show on the radio. The Sox lost again last night. I don't know what the fuck to even think about them lately. The Merrimack River gushes over its dam, and traffic inches across the stone bridge near the glowering gothic building housing the Franco American School. I remember when my mother used to teach there as I wait, proceed, wait, proceed, meet red lights, watch green arrows appear, wait, proceed, dodge a truck turning left by the Hess station.
The school was run by nuns and their cloister was part of the building, any number of shag-carpeted rooms smelling of mildew and filled with terrifying plaster statues and oil paintings of grim-faced saints I couldn't identify. The rooms were large and wood-floored with support posts every few feet. The building used to be an orphanage before it was a private Catholic school. You could tell. In the rain, especially, it gave off a vibe that was two parts despair to one part horror. Bloody Jesus in his stone grotto behind the building, his toes hanging just above the blazing votive candles, didn't help the atmosphere.
You see? I'm trying to talk about the present day and I can't. I keep getting dragged back. To Memorial Drive, maybe, on my way in to work in Boston two years ago the times I-93 just wasn't worth it and I'd take Rte 2 instead. To the Budweiser factory in Manchester with my sister and my grandmother, the times it rained like this and we couldn't go to the wishing well.
I wish now I'd been smarter with my wishes then.
*The Beatles, "In My Life"