The path, from there to here, wends this way and that. Full of curves and bumps, the road is often sticky, sometimes steep. Undeterred by brambles, pertinacious, tenacious, onward ever onward. The trip has been occasionally wistful, more often memorably joyous.
So many selves, each left at a juncture as I leap across every stream!
But I wonder, would I know them, those different selves, if I met them all again?
I’d like to try. So I turn and look back, just over my shoulder.
The Wading Pool, Summer 1962
The sun outside is flaming hot, the water in the round blue pool is icy cool. Somewhere a barbecue hisses and sizzles. The grown up talk hums and buzzes in my ears. The ladies’ dresses swish and brush at the top of my head. My mother lifts me away then gently puts me down in the water. “It’s not a bathtub,” she whispers, “this is is different. It’s a pool.” The ladies are there with their Cherries in the Snow lipstick, with their pointy Cutex red fingernails. with the voluminous skirts of their summer dresses ballooning over me like so many parachutes. So fancy. I so want to do the right thing. So very delicately I place my hands flat, over — but not in — the water. This has to be the right thing to do.
Playground, Francis Scott Key Elementary, 1967
Arms thrust into jackets, feet crammed into boots, hats askew on heads, the bell brrrrrriiiinnngs and we burst through the door like a churning river busting open a dam! The air is crisp and sharp and we puff out our breaths pretending we are smoking Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls. Some run to the monkey bars, others to the swings. But the best place is the hardtop, smooth and glistening, a sheer, slippery sheen of ice. We run as fast as we can and slide to the end, balancing on our buckled rubber boots, over and over. But then, suddenly, my toe is caught and I am upended. I wake flattened on the ice, a lump forming on the back of my head. I am dizzy and it hurts so much. Two of my classmates help me into the nurse’s office. I am curtly told to lie down. But when the nurse’s back is turned I jump up and weave away, back down the hallway back to the blacktop. “Stop, stop, stop! I am crying at everyone. “Please stop before you get hurt too!” But they won’t! They don’t!
The Little Gym Stage, Cranbrook, 1974
If truth be told I was far more suited to lashing scenery together, deftly whipping the ropes to hold the flats upright, than actually stepping out on stage. But oh, “the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd!” With the dawn of Spring, I was, we all were, swept overboard by our longed for performances of HMS Pinafore, me as one of the multitude of pasteled and bonneted chorus girls. But on opening night, instead of the required mild quaver in response to “Hark! Stay your hand! She loves you!” I wrapped my entire body around my sailor partner in a very non-19th century mode of terror. The audience loved it. My director, however, did not.
Domino’s Pizza, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981
This is how it worked. Phones ring, orders taken, tiny shreds of paper pushed down the line. The dough tossed casually in the air, caught and stretched onto a tray. Sauced by one and cheesed by another, then shoved over to me, the Toppings Queen. Mushrooms, onions, peppers, sprayed like confetti from my hands. Pepperoni dealt like blackjack. Sausage is the worst, so sticky that I have to dunk my hands in the olives to be able to fling bits onto the pies. The pizza is then shoved into the patented, conveyer belt oven to be out in precisely twelve minutes, then boxed and thrust into the hands of the delivery boy who then has to drive like combination of Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt to have the door to door delivery done within the requisite thirty minutes. The clatter and the tumult all night long, hour after hour pie after pie. Until finally closing time, 2:00 am. Floured, sauced and redolent of raw sausage, I step out into the empty parking lot. The velvet sky is flung full of stars. And I am all alone.
Park and 78th Street, 1993
Having punched and feinted my way down to this trim fighting weight, glorying in the fact that at last my closet is arrayed only with stylish clothes that fit, rather than dreamed for outfits that were simply yearned for, I am certain I can manage this new challenge with aplomb. We sit together in the waiting room, glowing with the knowledge that we belong here. The low tables are strewn with magazines, each one more baffling and humbling than the next: American Baby, Today’s Parent, Natural Mother. as well as several rumpled copies of What to Expect When You Are Expecting. I nervously pick up a magazine and riffle the pages and open to photo of an absurdly tranquil mother double breastfeeding. I blanch.
When I am called in to the office my practitioner performs a routine sonogram all the while keeping up his usual stand up comedy routine (he’s really quite good). “Remember,” he says grinning widely, “if it’s a boy you have to name him Austin after me!” He stares casually at the screen but then suddenly stops and squints hard. His practiced patter fades away. His mouth hardens to a line. Firmly he presses a button and quietly asks the nurse to get my husband.
When I ask what’s wrong, something must be wrong, would he please tell me what’s wrong he doesn’t answer. Instead, when my husband comes into the room he simply points at the screen. And to my husband he asks, “What do you see?” On the blurry screen, my husband points to a trembling bubble. And then another.
“Exactly,” said my practitioner. And if they boys you should name them both Austin.
Palmer Avenue, 2005
He is the idea man and of course this was his idea too. Once a week, every week he forgoes he happy chaos of the lunchroom, denies himself the ebullient tornado of recess where he is usually the eye of the storm. Signed out at the office, we proceed to Balducci’s where he will choose an absurd array of sushi or thickly layered sandwiches wrapped carefully in butcher paper. He’ll find a cupcake for dessert and always snag a caramel-filled chocolate bar to save for later.
The third of three sons, he is sometimes referred to wryly as “the happy child of benevolent neglect.” But in fact he is, and has always been the man in charge of all. Somehow he knows how I miss his brothers, relegated as they are to the rigors middle school. We sit and eat our lunch together in the backseat of the car, the engine running so we can play Tom and Jerry or Rugrats cartoons on the tiny video screen. I always hate to send him back to school. But I always do.
Who are they exactly, these sometimes quirky, often befuddled, flawed but generally well-meaning souls? Did I leave them all behind or did any of them cling to me for the march ever forward? All of these earlier selves are both so achingly familiar and yet curiously distant. But even so, no matter what, my arms reach out to each of them, my former selves, in kindness, to warm them, to embrace them still and bring them with me as we move forward.