February 27, 2010

Sick Day

Okay, Virginia. As much fun as everything being frozen and gray and windy as hell is, I am done. I hereby declare my tolerance for winter exceeded. I get it. And I am high-tailing it to California for a week in hopes that my abandonment draws some of the shit weather west, and away from Gwynn's Island. Is a little verdancy so much to ask? I think not. This is what I have in mind:

I am sick, which is not as much fun as I remember. This is probably related to my lack of things to be shirked. With the magical free pass to shirk responsibilities rendered worthless, sickness isn't so great. There is also no one to make me soup. I made my own soup. But soup, like Coke and sandwiches and french fries, is best when it is someone else's. Even if that person can't cook at all. Colby once made me sick-soup. Chicken Noodle Soup with whole fresh cilantro leaves inexplicably floating in it. I still appreciated it, because I hadn't made it. And really, from the guy who brought us "Chunky Peanut Butter/Margarita Mix Chicken" that soup was really not so bad. I also lose all sense of taste when sick, so, you know. I hope I am well in time for my trip to DC, and then to California, because traveling is unpleasant enough while healthy. I am looking forward to ethnic foods, and coffee shops, and beer on tap. Also to seeing people. I should probably examine my priorities, shouldn't I? Sometimes I lay awake and fantasize about potstickers. There is one Chinese restaurant in the county, and it is in downtown Mathews next door to the Food Lion. It is called "Shun Xing" and it is the object of rampant speculation in the White family. For me, my fascination with the place stems from the fact that I have never seen anyone enter or exit the establishment. It is like Willy Wonka's Backwoods Chinese Chocolate Factory. I like to thing it is staffed entirely by Oompa Loompas. Either that, or that it is simply to front business to some sort of unseemly Mathews underbelly organization. I have met a person who claims to have been there, and to have ordered two different entrees and received two separate cartons containing exactly the same thing. If that doesn't sound like a front business I don't know what does. Either way, I don't want to eat there.

I suppose I really haven't talked much about downtown Mathews. When my grandparents were growing up, each in different parts of Mathews county (Mobjack and Port Haywood, respectively) Mathews courthouse was the happening place on Friday and Saturday nights. People from all over the county would catch rides with friends down to Main Street, where they would parade down the street back and forth, stopping into the soda fountain at Rexall's Drugstore or the nickelodeon in the old Halycon Building. The interesting thing about Mathews is that most of the buildings have survived, and though downtown Mathews is pretty much a ghost town on Friday and Saturday nights nowadays, the locals you run into at Rexall's Soda Fountain (newly reopened) or the Mathews Film Society at the Halycon building (newly reopened) are happy to tell you about the town's heyday. I would most like to visit Mathews in the 1930s, when my grandmother would hitch a ride with her school friend and they would head to the courthouse and join the hubbub. It is hard to imagine now, that a trip to such a little place could ever have been the social highlight of the day.

February 22, 2010

Long Face

Lately I have found it difficult to say anything about myself. I have been trying to write things down, but I have been deleting more than survives. I have no idea what it means. I have been busy in life, meeting people and pursuing new things. Some kind of six month crisis, maybe. I miss my little sister. That usually seems too obvious to say. I have not been successful in capturing this loneliness that I feel in her absence in words. Joanna Newsom is better at that:

I wanted to say: why the long face?
Sparrow, perch, and play songs of long face
burro, buck, and bray songs of long face.
Sing: I will swallow your sadness and eat your cold clay
just to lift you long face.

And though it may be madness, I will take to the grave
your precious long face
and though our bones they make break and our souls separate,
- why the long face?
and though our bodies recoil from the grip of the soil
- why the long face?

I do better with lists. I try sometimes, to cumulate. Things that Have Happened Since You Died. Or, Things You Would Have Liked. Or, Things that You Took With You. But I never get past the list titles. The hardest thing is that I can't actually make a list about her that includes anything new. I will never, for the rest of my life, say a new thing about Laura. That breaks my heart. I can say everything about what she was like, but nothing about what she is like. Today I was driving home from the grocery store and I remembered that her hair was that pale red color, and I spent a good five minutes thinking, Why? Why did she have red hair? The nonsensical nature of her hair color just gripped me. But I did not have any kind of answer. I then found myself eyeing my hair in the rear view mirror, thinking, Is my hair red? No, no, your hair isn't red. There are so few pictures of us together, really. Some, but they're usually pretty bad for one of us, if not both. We were never particularly photogenic. It's only since she died that I have really noticed how alike we looked, but it horrifies me, because I realize that I am noticing now because her appearance is static. We had long gotten to the point where we couldn't tell what each other looked like, we'd spent so much of our lives staring at each other. And now that she is dead, I can suddenly tell what she looks like again, and it's me. I hate that. She will look that way for the rest of my life.

I don't write like this in this arena because it always seems so self indulgent, or just needlessly sad. But I suppose I feel some obligation to be honest here, just because I have tried so hard to do just that ever since I started this thing. I hate that I don't have anything funny to say, so I'll finish with a weird observation from Gwynn's Island. There is a little house on the main road where an old man, it appears, lives alone. Sometime in December I noticed that on his front steps, these narrow concrete stairs to a door I don't think gets any use, there stood a gnome collection. Gnomes of all sizes, but all wearing green with red hats. I had never noticed them before, a pretty unlikely thing as at that point I'd already been on the island for months and habitually ride my bicycle right past this particular house. I took great joy, from there on, in slowing down to stare the man's gnome collection. A month ago, I finally decided to take a picture and drove out, camera in hand. I found that the collection had disappeared, leaving me baffled and disappointed. I wondered if I had imagined them. And then, this week, they have reappeared in the same gnome-y formation, all jauntily perched on the steps to his front door. Will they disappear again? There's no telling.

February 7, 2010


My grandfather is timeless. He is living one overlong day, never ending. He cannot remember what it is he has forgotten. Most days this means that he does not realize he should be sad, or frightened. Some days it means that he wanders around, anxious, as if he has forgotten something important—that there was something he needed to do but he just can’t think of it. He asks what day it is, not realizing that days of the week hold no real meaning anymore. We write the schedule on little scraps of paper, and pin them to the fridge. Trying to help, we think we should throw away the pages of schedules from days we have already lived, inadvertently erasing the past. He suddenly can’t figure out what I am doing here, or when I got here, or what month it is. Strange that he has forgotten so much, but remembers so much. He knows who I am, and the first time he rode in an airplane (age 9-12, working the service station, a plane landed in the field across the way. The pilot asked, Do you know where Agnes Colvin lives? Granddaddy said, Yes, and the pilot said, Get in.) He knows my sister is dead, and that I am his only living grandchild. He remembers the floor of his first job, and walking the stairs to get to it, not realizing elevators existed. He remembers being stationed on the beach in Florida, in a hotel, near the end of WWII. He knows the name of my grandmother’s other boyfriend, Norman, and remembers crying over it the same day he and she were named the co-valedictorians of their high school class. He remembers the workers telling him that this house wasn’t no house, mister, this was a cathedral. He can’t remember what he had for lunch, or what happened yesterday, or that I live here, and have for six months. It is different than when my great aunt, his sister, began to forget. By the end, when I last visited Margaret, she remembered the people but not their faces. She could attach no name to my face, and thought I was everyone she had ever known, all at once. I think, sometimes, that if I were him, I would write everything down, but then I must remember that he doesn’t remember that he should—that every moment of every day is a moment he will inevitably forget as soon as it is past. He is unmoored, and we can only try to anchor him in moments. It makes me resent the world for changing all around him; how dare it, when he cannot keep up? I wish that we could stop with him, and in some ways we have. We are three people, 85, 84, and 23, and improbably, maybe, we have made a family. We shared blood all these years but until we all found ourselves here, together, we did not know how well we knew each other. Sometimes they say things that I know that I have said before, thousands of miles away, and wonder if I was born with these words in my mouth. And I can't help but wonder, looking at my grandfather, if this too is in my blood.