January 2003

new year

Wednesday, January 8, 2003, 9:37 a.m.

Hollis still slumbers away on the air mattress in the next room; outside, the sky is a thousand shades of grey. The piles of snow by the driveway are diminished, but still higher than my waist. It's good to be home.

I know I haven't written in two weeks, but I'm alive and wishing you a much-belated happy New Year.

Oh, yes, and Roger - in the coffee shop last night, Catherine showed Hollis and me the photographs of Detroit the Penguin's big day in the city. I laughed so hard my sides hurt. You're a clever man.


Wednesday, January 10, 2003, 9:26 p.m.

The sky seemed greyer as the bus pulled away, or perhaps I was simply more aware of it suddenly. The glaring sun, which had made me squint on the drive to the station, had vanished, and the Rochester horizon

Will be continued later. Grmph.

almost time to leave again

Thursday, January 16, 2003, 12:10 a.m.

I've gotten accustomed to the going back and forth, to this dual life, but that still doesn't mean that I'm really used to how it feels. Sometimes I need to turn the music up loud and drown myself in the sound, my mouth forming the words with the singer. No, Paul, it's not always a substitute for all the emotions, but sometimes it's about as close as I can get. So I lean back and let each note flow over me and pretend that each chord proves that life holds some continuity, that some common thread holds the bright and dark beads of my experiences into a single string, like a necklace that I will never finish but always, always wear.

And I write everywhere I can these days, trying to capture what makes a moment my own. Is it the blue shadows of bare maple limbs on deep snow, or the flakes that begin to drift from the sky even as I watch? Is it the crumbly-sweet taste of muffin in my mouth, or the purple stains on my fingertips left by the frozen berries that I mixed into the batter? I think perhaps I can claim the feeling of water running over my hands, and the foam of soap - I think I can claim the click of the record player beginning, and the gasp of breath that Gordon Lightfoot takes as the tempo changes. I wonder if he meant it there, or just decided to leave it when he heard the recording later... it sounds to me like a laugh, almost, and I feel as though my heart has glanced up in surprise from its heavy ponderings, startled and lifted - and perhaps that breath is mine, then, and may substitute for a smile when I am too unsure of myself to let my face show anything at all.

almost time to leave again, again

Friday, January 17, 2003, 8:53 a.m.

I'm trying to memorize the snow, because I know that Philadelphia will never look like this. Rabi said it right - Philadelphia winter is "a string of thirty-six degree days, soggy brown ground, and naked grey treebranches that clacked together like the bones on a skeleton puppet." Someday I'll live somewhere with real winters again, but meanwhile I fold the snowbanks up like crisp white handkerchiefs and tuck them into a spare pocket, to shake out later and cry into if I miss home too much on one of those brown days.

The cars on 390 seemed to be tiptoeing through the sludge and the clouds of flakes that swallowed the beams of headlights and gave little in return, but in the other direction the cars hardly move at all, and we are thankful. Night turned into day while we were in the airport, tying on address tags and saying goodbyes. Now it is only my mother and I, upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber and getting ready to take to the road. It's a strange, strange feeling... I do not know how to think about the fact that I don't know exactly when I'll see my sister again.

The snow has stopped falling. I've tarried too long, the sunlight tells me, and it seems I won't nap once more in my bed. Tomorrow I'll be back at Swarthmore. And still I don't know if I'm leaving home, or going there.

hey it's good

Monday, January 20, 2003, 8:34 a.m.

Well, I'm up earlier than I might like, and my back is stiffer than I wish it were. But the song that matters goes more like this:

Hey, it's good to be back home again
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, an' hey, it's good to be back home again

And even though John Denver wrote that, not me, it doesn't matter where it counts... and there's a verse or two about old friends and sweet love and the bright gleaming hope that comes with opening a new door. There's a bridge about a girl with long blond hair and a warm smile, and even though you've heard the chords a thousand times, they still make you feel cozy inside.

My oldnew room is cozy, too, and home. Kate moved her furniture around, and together we hung our wall hangings and posters until everything was off the beds and floor and chairs. Then we stood in the middle of the room and turned around and around, and decided that we really liked what we saw.

I'm home now, and even though my day is filled with classes that I hope I'm smart enough to handle, I'm excited.


Thursday, January 31, 2003, 2:20 p.m.

Really, I think I am in love with Thursday.

It's not even platonic. I might pretend that it's just for the sake of convenience, but I enjoy every sensual moment we spend together. And they are sensual - eating cheese and crackers while sitting cross-legged on the floor, Oolong tea and strawberry jam.[1] Books scattered here and there, Leonard Cohen's deep voice aching with the carnal and the sublime. And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her, she gets you on her wavelength and she lets the river answer that you've always been her lover...

We've grown comfortable with each other, too, Thursday and I. We wear our pajamas all day long, and after showering walk around wrapped just in a towel or nothing at all, alone together in my room. We're not worried about keeping up appearances for each other, and I wear my hair entirely unbound on Thursday. It falls tangled, uncombed, down my back and sprawls on the rug when I read my chemistry propped up on one elbow. I don't worry about meals, but eat when I feel I need it and drink when my throat tells me to.

Oh, don't be jealous, Saturday. You know that when I want to socialize, when I want to dress up and walk around downtown, or dance under pulsing lights in a press of people, you're the one I turn to. But I was only flirting when I said that I'd like to stay with you forever. You're my date for any party I go to. But the sweet, relaxed intimacy I have with Thursday - that's real love.

[1] You should read this.

Blue Bonnets

Thursday, January 31, 2003, 4:28 p.m.

Yes, I know I just wrote.

I hadn't listened to Hollis' album in a while, mostly because I have him here with me now. Not only can I hold his hand and walk to campus with him and talk to him until all hours of the morning in person, I can also listen to him play live, at least several times a week. And the sound quality is better in person.

I depended on this album over the summer, though, listening to it several times a day for a while when I was in Finland and missing him. Right before bed I'd listen to "Blue Bonnets," and it always always always made me cry. I'm still not able to distinguish tunes well enough to recognize most of them when he plays them - "Is that one you've played before?" I'll ask, and he'll tell me that he played it all summer long - but Blue Bonnets I do remember, for he loves it so well and plays it so often. If my life were a movie, that tune would be his theme, and swell in the background while the camera focused on my face as I gazed out over the sea on a rocky island in the Finnish archipelago... my hair blowing out behind me and my lips parted slightly to show that my thoughts are far away with a blue-eyed boy.

But school came, and as the real boy replaced the daydream, other music found its way onto my CD player. When Hollis gave me Susie's album for my birthday I again became addicted to Blue Bonnets, listening to the Jacobite war song again and again, singing along:

March! March! Ettrick and Teviotdale,
Why the deil dinna ye march forward in order?
March! March! Eskdale and Liddesdale,
All the Blue Bonnets are over the Border.

The melody snaps like banners in the breeze, and I almost feel a patriotism swelling in me for a country and a people that are not my own. I can see the armies assembling in the sun, ready for a valient (if ultimately unsuccessful) stand with their beloved bonnie Prince Charlie. A battle song, a war song. I almost forgot that I learned it as a love song.

But then I put his CD back into my disk drive, and in a moment the notes of the piano fall like rain, and I can see the way his fingers glide across the keys. Susie's accordion adds its rich voice, first a droning background and then soaring with the melody. And it comes back to me. The summer days when I wrote countless letters from strange places, and the joy each time of seeing him again when I visited. I can see his face when I listen to this tune, can see the funny half-smile that he gets when he plays - an expression he's probably not even aware of, and doesn't wear any other time - and the way he closes his eyes sometimes briefly, savoring the harmony the way one savors chocolate, or a kiss. I feel so moved by that expression, because it somehow feels so intimate. The moments when we are most peaceful, when we let our guard down - those are perhaps the moments when we are most beautiful, and the moments that those who love us love to see.

The music builds, builds, crests and resides like a wave slipping back to the ocean. Outside, night drops its blanket upon snowy trees. All's well.

Days of Beauty
Copyright Elizabeth McDonald 2003

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