Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The eternal flame

UC Santa Barbara has a monument on campus entitled the Eternal Flame. It is a small sculpture located on the lawn between buildings, and in its triangular center it burns, as they say, incessantly. Our final week living together in the dorms, my friend Graham convinced a group of us to sneak out to the Eternal Flame after dark and - well - roast marshmallows.

This was the kind of thing we did. This is the kind of thing I would still do.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The places we go

Some nights are for driving.

Tonight I drove I-280 south from San Francisco on my way back from a raucous afternoon at the Golden Gate Races. It was one of those winter days that I think only happen in California. There really is only one word for it, that light: nostalgic.

The drive tonight reminded me of a summer night in Davis last summer, the night before I moved to San Jose.

I had completed grad school a mere 48 hours earlier and spent that entire weekend fitting two years’ worth of work into the back of my 2002 Volvo. It was one of those summer days where the sun goes on forever. When I was a child, playing outside on nights like that, I'd imagine that on the other side of the Berryessa Hills, Paul Bunyan would be standing there with his ox and a hatchet, lifting the sun above the hills. I was always drawn to follow that horizon, if anything to find him standing there, keeping the night at bay.

When I don't know where to go on summer nights in Davis I go to Fairfield School. That hot night last summer was no different. I got in my car and drove out on the county roads west of town.

There was an unintentional poetry to it; returning, almost without thought, to the place where I first learned to learn, the very first school that meant anything to me, just hours after completing an advanced degree. When I go out there among the oak trees, I still think of Debbie Clark, the second grade teacher who let me be shy, the woman who agreed to be my pen pal, even though we lived only blocks from each other. She had two beautiful grown daughters but had room in her heart for a dorky shy seven-year-old; this was the same woman who, a few years later, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in seventh grade and I still remember her dying wish: to be surrounded in flowers. Someone, I don't know who, organized a group of Fairfield students and parents, and the group of us gathered to rototill her new backyard, and all that spring we trimmed rosebushes and watered her lawn. A few months later she succumbed to breast cancer at the young age of 45. The complete lack of reason for it all - the irrationality of it, seeing a good person get sick, left an impression that remains with me today.

I go out to Fairfield and I remember her still, swishing between the desks in those long elementary-school-teacher-dresses, the ones with the alphabet on them, or flowers, and I remember the art of wonder. How that little two-room brick schoolhouse is a place that fills me with wonder, even now. How nostalgia can be different from sentimentality; how you know when a place is meaningful when your feet -- or your wheels -- simply lead you there, on instinct.

There are no Fairfields on 280-South, but there are these luscious woods in every shade of green, and there is this quality of light that shivers in the afternoon. There is Half Moon Bay. Sometimes, if you are lucky, as I was today, there are great white egrets that straddle the freeway divider, standing on one leg without a care in the world, their oblong heads almost invisible if they stand at the right angle.

Sometimes, if you squint your eyes, you can make out Paul Bunyan standing just beyond those hills, propping them up with his hatchet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

one hundred words: Takeoff

She feels what her twin feels, on the other side of the globe. He goes to the fish market and she feels his fingers slip over scales. He goes to the mountains and she feels air whipping against her cheeks. He goes to work and her heart grows thick and heavy. It’s a weight she didn’t know he felt. She wishes, from the other side of the world, that she could lift it. But how? She goes to the market, to the mountains. She sits very still and concentrates on the warm texture of his heart. She feels him lift.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What happens when we bring the dog

He drove up Christmas Eve. He’d cut his hair, she noticed, and shaved his beard. Please, he said, let’s go on a walk. Only if we bring the dog, she said. It had recently rained. The hills were gray and calm. The lane was quiet and empty. He held her hand. The dog ran ahead. His face was pale and clean. His voice quivered. He was on one knee. All the sugar in her body fled to her fingers. You’re quite sure? she whispered. He nodded. The dog returned, a witness. Yes, she said. The sun returned. They held hands.