Lessons on Being Present

In case you’ve been wondering, the latest is that we still have no idea where we’re going to be living come September. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve come mighty close to signing three different leases, but then decided for one reason or another, that none of them were just right for our little family. And they weren’t. One was too small, one was too expensive and didn’t have parking. Another didn’t have a bathtub (arbitrary, I know, but when you have a kid it matters).

For now we’ve decided to take a break from looking until early next month. There aren’t really any September 1 leases up right now anyway and that’s been another issue. But the hard part of this has been trying to stay calm and positive in the face of so much unknown. I’m trying to look at it as a great lesson for life. We never really know what’s coming and the best we can do is concentrate on making the here and now the best possible present it can be.

It’s something I struggle with a lot. I’m a planner at heart. I’m always looking ahead, craning my neck away from what’s right in front of my face so that I can see what’s just around the bend. I often lose sight of the present because I’m so concerned about the future. It’s typical of me to enjoy a phase of my life only when it’s part of my past. I’m sure I’ll always look back fondly on our three months housesitting in Topanga, although right now I’m feeling frustrated and a bit disheartened and distracted.

There are in fact many good things going on: Greg is working away happily on his writing deadline. I’m working on my second book and sending my first out to other authors. And best of all, Vera seems to be happier than ever. She’s just been thriving in California. She talks more than ever. She can say EVERYTHING all of a sudden and just jabbers away at us all the time. We’re really impressed with her analogies too.

The other morning we took a walk in the canyon while Greg was writing, and on our way back towards the house we came across an injured possum in the road. Of course, I had to call Greg and have him bring us a box and a towel so that we could try to “save” it. (In case you don’t know, this is a theme of mine, a compulsion I get from my mother.) Anyway, we got the little guy in a box and before too long Vera and I were on our way to a wildlife center in Malibu. We named the possum Clyde and in the car I explained to Vera that we were taking Clyde to the doctor so that they could make him feel better. “He doesn’t feel good, Mama?” I also tried to tell her a bit about possums. They sleep during the day and stay up all night. They like to hang upside down from trees.

Vera seemed to think about everything we talked about and then finally said, “Clyde is kinda like a mouse?” He is kind of like a mouse, I said, really impressed with her use of the word like and the comparison to a mouse, which also has a long, naked tail and little ears and a furry body.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to call for an update on Clyde — he honestly didn’t look too hot — but the people at the California Wildlife Center were great and I’m sure they did their best.

Speaking of doing the best, I’m going to sign off and try to do the same.

 

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On Three Years of Marriage

Greg and I were married three years ago today on Cape Cod. There is an entire album of our wedding photos here, but my favorite photo to this day from that weekend is this one of us taken the day after the wedding. We’re standing in the waves on Bank Street Beach, a place I’ve been going for as long as I can remember.

We can’t quite imagine all that is before us — Chicago winters, the birth of our daughter, friends and summers and cross-country moves and books and pain and peace and fear and laughter. We can’t quite imagine it, but we know it’s coming all the same.

 

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The Places We Live

The only place I’ve ever moved back to was Atlanta. I was born in Atlanta and then when I nine we moved to Florida. When we returned to Georgia five years later our lives had changed — both of my parents had been recently diagnosed with cancer. It was also the year I began high school. The convergence of all of those things wrought more angst and depression in our household than I can describe. I holed away in my basement room writing lengthy poems about my mother’s cancer and the boys that didn’t call. The Atlanta of my childhood was lost forever.

There was a weird overlapping of those two existences though. On my way to that first month of ninth grade I had to walk past the house I grew up in — a mansion really, and the kind of house that we could no longer afford. I noted the magnolia tree that I’d carved my name into on moving day five years before and the driveway where I learned to ride a bike. We moved into a rental across town a few weeks later and the relics of our past became places I drove by late at night a few years later after I had my own car.

Moving back to California has been similar. A strange sort of overlapping of my old life as a grief-stricken single woman with the more balanced version of the wife and mother I have become. Last week when I drove down to Long Beach to see Liz I took a few minutes and drove by my father’s old condominium in Garden Grove. I idled in my car outside the complex, waiting patiently for one of the residents to drive through and open the gates. Then I drove slowly through and around the corner, parking outside of unit number 95 where I let the memories wash over me. I stared at the front door to my father’s old condo, wishing so hard that I could walk through it and see him sitting at his desk.

“Kiddo, you’re here!” That’s what he used to shout when I’d arrive after the long drive down from Hollywood.

I can’t help feeling like these places carry some remnant of us. Or at least that the memories that fill a place are strong enough to transport us to the past, if only for an instant. I imagine a careful looping of time, in that vague way I understand string theory to work. I see all the layers of time — then and now — coiling upon themselves like a garden hose, warm in the afternoon sun and piled loosely in the high grasses that the mower doesn’t reach.

Yesterday, on my way to meet Lien for a goat roast I took a moment to drive by the first apartment I lived in when I moved to LA nine years ago. The apartment was up on Ivar Hill and I lived there with my boyfriend at the time. It was a beautiful old unit in a house that had belonged to the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. There were columns in the living room and French windows and an old stoop that looked out at the Capitol Records building. I idled in my car again, looking at the front door and the numbers on the wall, remembering.

That apartment shows up in a couple of chapters of my book and before my foot found the gas again, I turned around in my seat to look at a copy of it in the backseat, memories coiling up within the pages and right before me.

Life seems long to me sometimes. Like you can do it a hundred different ways, a hundred different times. Like you can drive by versions of your previous self. Like they all still exist.

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