10 April 2009

When all this actual life played out...

Not quite 15 years ago, I was at the wedding of my dear friend LS. Just going had been something of a bold maneuver, as I was a new mother of four months, and left the son with his father while I took off for New Hampshire. Moreover, we'd just returned from my brother's wedding, so I'd just come back from two weeks of driving to and from Oklahoma only to fly out to Boston.

(And you thought last year was an anomaly.)

The wedding was lovely and during the reception, I looked up to see an older woman advancing on me. She greeted me by name, asked if I remembered her, and the look on her face told me that it was important that I remember her.

She looked familiar but I couldn't put a name to her. As she recounted conversations we'd had, and I faked remembrance, I wanted to sink into the ground in sadness and embarrassment. Clearly the time we'd spent together was so meaningful to her, and where the hell on earth was I?

Of course, it never occurred to me to put some of it down to post-pregnancy brain, emergency surgery, caring for an infant with severe jaundice at home 24/7 thanks to the cheapskate policies of our insurance company and the fact that I'd gotten my first full night of sleep in months only the night before. Even now, it doesn't occur to me to put some of it down to those stresses because the memory of my fraudulent good cheer in those moments as I scrambled to remember still distresses me no end.

Naturally, her name came to me in a little, as did the memory of her visit to Tucson to see LS years earlier, and later in the evening we shared a real conversation and laughter, and all was well.

But that moment, racking my brains, was terrible.

Moments in time, those little mental movie stills that we carry with us--and hopefully remember. I've learned to stop time, to take the picture, to hold the moment.

And so it was today, when I suddenly held the moment of a year ago, of staring at the desk in front of me, plastic handset of the hotel phone pressed against my ear, hungry and tired, undecided as to whether to order a salad or a steak. The room service lady made the decision for me.

"You will have the steak," she said briskly, but not unkindly, "because you need strength, and because you need to relax, I will also send you a glass of red wine."

She was so decisive that I burst into laughter.

I had a hard time convincing myself to make that trip to San Juan, in much the same way that I've had a hard time convincing myself that this trip to D.C. is a good idea. But a memory strikes--sunlight on the Potomac, kissing a midshipman on a warm summer night, T. telling me I look like Janis Joplin and my subsequent threats of grievous bodily harm to his person--and I'm almost seduced into believing that it will be fine.

(Once, I called T. from a phone on a table at a buffet in Las Vegas. It was 3 am his time. "WHY?" he wailed. "Because you said I looked like Janis Joplin when we were 14," I told him. "Are you ever going to forget that?" he groaned. "No," I replied.)

And M. has sent me emails proclaiming "AWESOME!!!!!" Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I haven't seen her since we were both in Germany at the same time, after having run into her out of the blue in Northern Arizona, after she attended my wedding in California. And there was the moment she handed me a large coffee cake as I set out to drive to Bavaria.

"Why?" I asked, grateful but mystified.

"You might get hungry," she replied.

My family, my friends, are everywhere. And so I profess that my home is everywhere. Yet...

Last April, it was convenient to play stranger in a strange land. Now, I am ostensibly going "home," or as much home as anywhere, as much home as a city name on a birth certificate and an address where I lived the early part of my life can make it.

Go listen to some good music: "Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol.

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