My Nana and I are pen-pals. Rather than call each other, we exchange letters every few weeks. Last month I mailed her a rock from the Florida Panhandle and she responded with this letter written on one continuous sheet of two-play toilet paper:
Archives for July 2008
Sometimes I can’t write at all. Sometimes I can’t stop. It’s what some therapists call an addiction and other therapists call an outlet. To me they’re one in the same – addictions and outlets – marked by bouts of happiness and bouts of sadness. Marked by what we mull over on long drives home as the evening sun blinds us, making us squint, making us look in the rearview mirror to check our makeup or to check our teeth, where upon doing so we discover that years of squinting has etched lines on our face, which is why I suppose the passage of time is often illustrated by lines.
I know she was just a fish, so I’ll just make this clear: it’s not about the fish. It’s about what we get attached to. And how we get attached. Attached to people, to TV shows, to bands, to cars, to brand names, to favorite pubs and football teams. And it’s not just humans either. My dog is so attached to me that when I don’t come home after work Joe tells me he sits with his nose to the front door and waits.
Some people cynically spin the word attachment and call it baggage. If you’ve met someone who brags that they have no baggage, don’t buy it. No baggage means no attachments and the minute you hear that B.S., be wary. A person with no baggage is either deeply repressed, deeply afraid or deeply alone.
In 2002, when my favorite show Ally McBeal went off the air I remember retreating to my bedroom and crying softly into my pillow. On the surface it was a pitiful act. I remember my father snorting under his breath as I whimpered during the final David E. Kelley credit.
“Christ kiddo. It’s just a skinny broad on TV.”
And I remember my friends stopping by the house to cheer me up – half joking, half not – because they understood that even if I was a fool to mourn the skinny broad I had, from age 15 to 20, identified more with that neurotic, hallucinating, love struck lawyer than any other female character then or since.
Joe says Ally McBeal was my Mary Tyler Moore.
Attachments vary of course in seriousness. I was also, for about ten years, attached to a Paula Abdul concert tee shirt my mother found at a Goodwill store in Hamburg, N.Y. Even though I had never seen Paula in concert – and I promise you I begged – I became unreasonably attached to this tee shirt.
I’d wear the shirt to school, to bed, to the airfield where my father flew his model airplane, to my Oma & Opa’s house for dinner. I wore it so much I convinced myself (and others) that I had actually gone to the concert. I held onto it for years. And when I finally threw it out sometime in 2005, a pang of wistfulness stabbed at my memory and I’m sure in my montage of memories I thought: what a great concert.
My office fish Martha died last week. She was 11 months old. Her bowl was cloudy and she was acting listless the day before, which gave me pause because Martha was usually a plucky fish. Just last week I gushed to my coworker Kyle, “Man, she’s a cute fish, isn’t she?” To which one of our editors replied, “Can fish be cute?”
It was in the way she swam – dive bombing the bottom of her bowl and then rushing to the surface to eat pellets and blow bubbles, staring at me with one distrustful eye and out the office window with one trustful eye – that reminded me of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffanys. She was a pale fish. Colorless really, which is why I chose her. All the other Betas in the pet store were red, purple, orange and blue. Ostentatious fish with gaudy dramatic fins.
Martha was understated. Sleek, simple, yet an extrovert.
I realize now that I probably overfed her. According to every Beta web site I tracked down, cloudy bowls are an indication of overfeeding. (Kyle you’re off the hook. Perhaps by keeping her lean while I was on vacation you extended her life span by two weeks.)
I read a NY Times essay this week in which an Iraq war vet – now safely stationed in Brooklyn and “non-deployable” after getting shot in Baghdad – mourns the loss of his overseas daydreams, most of which centered around Natalie Portman:
“… She and I would have dinner in a darkened restaurant, somewhere hip and stratospherically expensive, thick with the smell of polished wood. The swirling flashbulb-pop taste of something unpronounceable on my tongue; looking up, smiling and feeling the shivering joy of having her laugh at a witticism of mine.”
Attachments. All of it. Material. Ephemeral. The things we sometimes take for granted. The things we don’t. I’m sitting here watching Plant Lady pull away thinking straight lines are pinched by the passage of time and even though we never met, I’m going to miss her man-eating ferns.
I‘ve been distracted. Birthday parties. Rays games. Ghost hunting in Sarasota. Bike riding with Joe. Interviewing Sarasota County Commissioners. Watching Batman. You know. The basic distractions.
There’s this fantastic theory, this conceptual theory first suggested by psychologist Carl Jung, called synchronicity that surrounds my every move.
I just discovered there’s a St. George Island, Alaska. The pictures posted here were taken by Al and Linda.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census SGI, Alaska is 182 square miles and populated by 152 people – 92 percent of which are Native Americans.
The house we’re renting is called Carpe Diem. It’s spelled out on a rooster sign hanging over the front door. Every house on St. George Island has a name. A Place in the Sun. Blues Away. Casa Blanca. Cubby Hole. Fun Kissed. Bay Watch.
The rooster sign doesn’t mesh with the rest of the decor, which is all sea-faring creatures, stuffed or otherwise. Wait. On second thought the rooster sign does mesh with the bullhorns on the wall in the master bedroom.
Bullhorns aside the place feels like the inside of a boat. The smell of wet wood will do that, transport you to the stern of a boat where as a girl you slept in the shape of a question mark beside your sisters and your parents on long trips to Port Colborne, Canada.
Joe and I took a day trip to Tallahassee today. It rained bucketloads, so it was a wise use of our time. We toured the FSU campus and tracked down Joe’s alumni brick, which was no small feat since we had no friggen clue where his brick was laid.
We ate lunch at a diner neither one of us can remember the name of on Apalachee Parkway, passed up several nitty bookstores on our two-hour drive from Apalachicola to Tallahassee, where we settled on a big box Borders, drank fancy coffee drinks and bought an assortment of poli-sci books and literature.
I would proclaim the day a wild success had it not been for a devastating 515 to 530 Rummy loss two hours ago, robbing me of a 15-minute massage I rightly deserved given that last night’s loss ended in fisticuffs.
On Mondays I usually plead with my fish Martha, whom I keep in a bowl on my desk, to finish writing my stories so I can write sentences that start with things like “… a man walked into a forest and stumbled into a clearing, where under the shade of a sycamore tree a redheaded woman was seated at a piano playing spy music.”
I remembered the first time I tried to swim without arm floats. How the water felt like pudding and my arms felt like whisks. I was five years old and treading chlorinated water in a concrete pool in Myrtle Beach. How I prayed, even though I didn’t believe in Jesus, that my father would pluck me from the water and set me back on dry land. How I regretted instantly thinking I could make it on my own to the water slide, which was the color of a robin’s egg. How when my father grabbed me from the deep end it was with one hairy arm. How water ran out my nose and burned my throat when I coughed. How I was scared of the water for three days after that.
I remembered a railroad tie, a broken pier jutting into cold Lake Erie on the shores of Crystal Beach, Canada, where I stayed with my best friend Sarah’s family. How Sarah’s family always rented a ramshackle beach house in a ramshackle beach community that profited from an amusement park that closed in 1989 that everyone including my parents and grandparents used to go to. How my mother told me she rode The Comet coaster when she was pregnant with me. How every time I looked at that ghostly roller coaster from the end of that jagged pier I used to squint at it, frozen in time, frozen seven years after my birth, frozen before I had a chance to ride it, and imagine my mother with her red feathered hair, riding it pregnant with me. How when Sarah and I jumped from that jagged pier we’d hold hands and curl our toes just in case we landed on rocks when we hit the water.
I remembered the smell of model airplane fuel. The sweet sticky smell of model airplane fuel. How my father kept it in little bottles on his work bench in the basement. How the bottles were tiny because model airplanes don’t require much fuel. How the fuel was the color of pink lemonade and the bottles were shaped like old lady face potions. How next to the fuel there was model airplane resin, that in its powder form was softer than baby talcum and whiter than sugar. How I loved to sift my hands through it. How I loved that my dad had stuff like this in our basement. Jars with skull and crossbones symbols on them. How in school they told us to stay away from stuff like that, those pale pink potions that powered fiberglass Nazi warplanes.
I remembered eating vanilla pudding pops in the summer. How we used to buy them from Crances Superette from a woman named Mary who worked behind the counter. How Mary hung a yellow fly strip by the milk freezer. How she had short brown hair that looked like a winter cap. How she lived in the apartment upstairs and had big round glasses and a sad wistful smile.
PS. The picture above was taken July 4 in Sarasota’s Bayfront Park.