Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lasting Impressions

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“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”  –Oliver Wendell Holmes

One afternoon, in Junior High, I sat on my best friend’s driveway with her.  We sat on the warm cement talking about boys and music and whatever else was important to our barely-formed selves.  We watched cars drive past and her cat at it pounced around the yard.  Slowly and softly, rain began to sprinkle down on us.  We laid down, sprawled on the gray slab, side by side.  We lay still and talked, letting the rain fall steadier and harder on us.  The ground warmed us for a while, until we steadily grew colder and damper.  We ignored her mother’s requests to come inside and stayed still.  We let the driveway grow wet, dark, shiny around us.  When we finally gave in and fled the chill, we stood up to examine our handiwork: two pale bodies, laying side by side, silhouetted by the rain.  We watched drops splotch over our images which eventually disappeared completely into the wetness.

Tonight I drove home with my window down, taking in the smell that can never be fully captured.  When I ran home at lunch today, my car was hot and stuffy, barely bearable even with the air conditioner blowing.  By the time I left, gray had covered the city and darkness had fallen early.  As sprinkles hit my windshield, I could smell it beginning.  I opened the window and reveled in the memories and peace of the beginning of rain. 

Nothing on earth smells as good, smells as safe, smells as comforting as rain on a warm sidewalk.  I inhaled so deeply that my lungs could have burst through my ribs.  I could not breathe in enough of the smell, could not possibly take in enough of the air around me.  It is warm and sweet, clean and alive.  I remember the smell drifting through the screen door of my childhood home, hearing the rain begin to lightly hit the fiberglass roof over our patio.  I am suddenly sitting in our living room, in front of the big window, watching the world be bathed.  I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, sitting inside for lunch in elementary school.  I am back on that warm driveway, sharing life with my best friend.  The smell is safety.  I feel at home, draped in a blanket of memories, warmed by a simpler time.

Our outlines did not last.  They were quickly blurred and disappeared.  The smell of rain drifts away as the clouds continue to drop, lasting only long enough to be missed.  The moments, the smell, are fleeting.  The memories are indelible. 

“Let the rain kiss you.  Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.  Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”  –Langston Hughes

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In a Past Life…

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“Sometimes someone says something really small and it just fits into this empty place in your heart.”My So-Called Life

Yesterday I saw my high school Algebra teacher.  He was accompanied by his wife, who also worked at my high school as a counselor and vice principal.  This would be unremarkable if I were in my home town, but I was at work 600 miles from home.  I second-guessed myself when I fist saw him, but his wife was unmistakable.  I wanted to find a reason to speak to them, knowing that a decade after I took his class he would have no reason to remember me, but was busy with customers. 

My mood lifted when I saw them, a piece of home where I never expected it.  Finally I approached his wife and introduced myself.  She was never my counselor, so she also had no reason to recognize me.  When I told her my name she smiled and said that she remembered it from my time at the school.  While this may have been polite courtesy, she then asked who my parents were and nodded as I named them, making connections in her head.  Finally, she asked I attended the elementary school that, in fact, I did attend.  She laughed and said that she knew me through my sixth grade teacher, her close friend and walking partner.

This whole interaction left me glowing.  A woman who had no business knowing me and, in fact, did not know me, somehow knew who I was.  She remembered my name, my history, my people.  She could have feigned recognition, but she knew me through a teacher that I loved.  There was a time in my life when I was someone people knew.  I was involved, a leader, someone who stood out.  For twenty-two years, I was noteworthy.  I’ve spent the past three years being reminded how unimportant, unremarkable, insignificant I am.  I am surrounded by people who do not know my name, even when I am wearing a name tag.  I have come to have a hard time discerning which me is the real me, which is the fraud. 

Tonight I spent time with some friends from college.  I met many of their new friends, most of whom are pursuing post-graduate degrees or are working in fulfilling “real” jobs.  I felt out of place, embarrassed whenever I was asked what I do.  At the same time, I talked with new people, asked about their lives, was engaging and enjoyed getting to know them.  In a moment of clarity, I saw the me that used to be confident, personable and social.  I saw the person I used to be, that person that relative strangers knew.  Inadequacy quickly took over and I was ready to hide in my anonymity soon enough, but for a few minutes, the old me surfaced. 

On the way home, my friend played a “sweet” song for me.  Not being a fan of country music, I was biased and not incredibly inclined to listen, but I gave it a shot.  My polite patience turned into almost immediate tears.  The song was “The House That Built Me,” about going back to your roots when you’re lost.  It’s about revisiting a childhood house, but it’s so much more.  It’s finding the place that created the person you are, the world that bore you.  Finding that origin, that point of creation, might bring back the person we’ve lost. 

While there is a powerful healing that comes from visiting my house, home is much more.  Home is seeing the friends who knew me when I worked hard, achieved high and led my peers.  Home is seeing my parents, getting notes from them in the mail.  It’s seeing someone who knew you by reputation, who remembers you a decade later, and gently reminds you that you are someone worth seeing. 

I was someone important, someone impressive.  I do not say this arrogantly or lightly.  I say this because I was reminded, by a piece of home, of who I used to be in my past life.  I say this because I hope, deep inside, I still am. 

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/ This brokenness inside me might start healing/ Out here it’s like I’m someone else/ I thought that maybe I could find myself…”  –Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

Home

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“There are places I’ll remember/ All my life though some have changed/ Some forever not for better/ Some have gone and some remain/ All these places have their moments/ With lovers and friends I still can recall/ Some are dead and some are living/ In my life I’ve loved them all…” –The Beatles

For the first time in a couple of years I went back to my college campus today.  I needed to sign some papers in the administration building and stopped by early in the afternoon.  Almost exactly three years ago I graduated.  It’s a bittersweet feeling being back.  I try not to think about my college life and self much.  When I do, I feel like Harry Potter.  He lived the school year in a world where he mattered, where he was a hero.  Then he returned to a world where he was neglected, humiliated and ignored.  College was my Hogwarts, a place where I was someone.  I was, as Ron Burgundy put it, “Kind of a big deal.”  Now, I live a life so different, so far from that that I hardly recognize it.  I am not a leader, not lauded for my efforts, not given responsibility.  I am not surrounded by friends, cramming my schedule full and forcing myself to make time to sleep.  I spend my days alone, bored, in quiet anonymity.

I walked through the ground floor of a building to get to my office destination.  As I opened the door, I quickly wondered if I would remember the way out of the labyrinthine classes and offices.  As soon as the thought entered my mind, my body took over.  Muscle memory led me through the halls, around corners.  I walked the buildings and pathways so many times, so naturally, that it was still ingrained in me.  My home of four years has changed significantly, new buildings sprouting up and faces all changed.  Despite the new terrain, it was the same.  The bookstore smelled exactly as it did when we wandered it between classes, despite all the new merchandise.  The quiet campus still held a calm and comfort that I found in my hundreds of hours sitting around it. 

All of the memories of who I was, of what I used to do, were hard to experience.  I remembered cramming for finals, frantically finishing assignments and meeting for half-hearted group projects.  I also remembered the people whom I loved, who loved me, and the time we spent there–the hours wasted in the coffee house, lounging on benches in the sun, strolling across the plazas.  It was comforting to know that a piece of me still felt at home, still belonged on that campus.  It also stung to see the new additions, the strange faces, and know that it is no longer my school. 

“Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”  –Saul Bellow

Sitting the Babies

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“Rest your head close to my heart/ Never to part, baby of mine”  —Dumbo

I have spent time (and made a little money) babysitting since I was nine years old.  When I started out, I was just a helper while the mother was home, but gradually I worked my way up to watching children on my own.  Usually I watched the children of family friends, but I’ve branched my way out to the families of strangers.  It’s a strange thing, babysitting.  When I was younger, I always secretly couldn’t believe I was old enough to be trusted to watch someone’s child.  I always felt like too much of a child to be responsible for another life, despite the fact that I really am a good sitter.  Suddenly, in the past couple of months, the opposite feeling has taken hold.  I’m watching the children of my friends, not my parents.  I could be a parent.  “Babysit” sounds so juvenile.  It’s a weird feeling.  I love watching kids and can think of no more enjoyable way to earn some money, but the term just never seems to fit.

This past week I had the pleasure of watching the little boy that I’ve watched for almost three years, his beautiful baby sister, and (surprise!) the little girl who was visiting them.  I watched the three year-olds run, chatter, jump and squeal throughout the house at nothing in particular.  I watched as they proudly showed me how they brush their teeth, something I do without thinking.  We played Candyland, but it took too long to hold their interest through the end.  We played hide-and-seek.  Both kids hid under the coffee table every time, and both pretended to look all over for each other before shrieking with laughter when “discovering” the other.  This never got old for them.  They are breathing energy, bouncing until the moment I put them into their beds, singing and talking to themselves long after I turned out the lights. 

All of the commotion woke the baby up.  At one point, while the two older kids played, I got the baby out of bed and held her to calm her down.  I’ve watched her for almost a year now, but haven’t seen her since the new year.  She had no idea who I was, but melted into my arms when I picked her up.  We sat on the couch and she instantly calmed down.  Laying on my chest, she layed her head on my shoulder and was silent.  I shifted her a couple of times to see if she was asleep.  She never closed her eyes, but lay still and quiet against me.  She folded and molded to my torso, as relaxed as I’ve ever seen her. 

It’s a special thing, holding a baby.  I remember when her brother was a baby, holding him outside on a cold night.  His tiny body against mine, with his blanket over him, was better than a heater.  He slept still and silent amidst the activity around him, warm and content.  Then I thought about how I sleep.  I never sleep on planes or in airports.  I never sleep on car trips.  I don’t even really like sharing a room.  I don’t trust people when I sleep.  I don’t think that my friends would harm me, but it’s not beyond them to pull a prank.  I don’t trust them not to judge me if I drool, or snore, or make a weird face.  Even in my sleep I’m self-conscious.  Babies aren’t like that.  They haven’t learned to fear, or worry, or care what others think.  They relax in the human contact, rest in the closeness of being held.  This night came shortly after I read a post on the blog 1000 Awesome Things.  A baby falling asleep on you comes in at number 520 on the list.  The smell of a baby, its soft breaths and skin, its tiny body curling up on you is like nothing else.  I reveled in the absolute trust and security of the baby. 

There is nothing like a baby falling asleep on you.  Somewhere, as we get older, we learn to create personal space.  We don’t let strangers embrace us, perhaps for good reasons.  We worry about others’ perceptions of us and their intentions toward us.  A baby does none of this.  I wonder what it would be like to find that peace and comfort again.  To fall asleep against the rising and falling chest of someone holding me, let them snuggle me in and simply drift off with no second thoughts.  What would it be like to be rocked before bed each night, be held until calm set in and sleep takes hold?  How would it be to not think about work or money or deadlines and simply let ourselves be loved to sleep?  There are a lot of perks that come with growing up, but somethings about childhood simply cannot compare. 

“Children make you want to start life over.”  -Muhammad Ali