I try to have crushes, because it’s one thing I’ve always done without much prompting, and if my most recent breakup shut me down, then what better than infatuation to open me back up. I don’t care if I get burned. In fact it might be better that way.
I rehash all the things I told myself when Nick and I started going out. I thought then that I was enlightened, that all my previous pain was acceptable because it helped me get to that precious present moment. Nick was very practical. When I had problems with my parents—which I wasn’t supposed to have because I was enlightened, but which I did, because I always did, and because I was a teenager and they still treated me like I was twelve—we approached it in very rational, spiritually advanced ways. I wasn’t supposed to get mad, or let it bother me much or dare dwell on it, Nick kept reminding me.
My friends and I hang out in Stacy’s room and read from a questions book meant to give interesting topics to discuss at parties, to get to know other people better than those icebreaker games during orientation.
“Okay,” I say, flipping through the book. “Would you rather live a life that’s simple, safe and secure or one full of adventure and passion, with high highs and low lows?”
“I’d vote for the latter,” says Jillian.
“I don’t know that there’s a such thing as a simple and secure life,” says John. “I mean I think they’re getting at the whole like, house with kids and a dog, but I think that’s a pretty unsafe, insecure, exciting life too. Anything could happen even in that situation.”
One night in early September, there’s a crab feast in the cafeteria for dinner. Everyone’s so excited, especially the students from Maryland. I’ve never had crab before. John, sitting next to me, demonstrates for all of us. He whacks his crab a few times with a mallot, and then pulls the crab apart. I watch closely but can’t see how he knows what’s the meat and what’s pieces of bone or innards. It looks like brain surgery.
We go back to the outdoor school for dinner, then they drive us all to the beach for the evening. I hang out on a towel on the sand and watch a fiery, cloud-filled sunset with Jen and Christina, two writers who live in a dorm by the Lit House. The Lit House is a special building on campus for all the English majors to have meetings, workshops and readings. Most of our Sophie Kerr weekend events took place there.
“Are either of you taking the freshman creative writing class?” I ask.
“I am,“ says Christina. She has long straight dark blond hair, and wears a beanie. She’s small, one of those small people like my mother who carries a big voice.
“Cool,” I say, flexing my toes and watching a cloud fill with red like a pen burst inside it. “Me too.”
I just got home from AWP in Seattle. For those who haven’t heard of it, AWP is this massively huge swarm of writers that descends on a different city each year. This year, AWP took over the Washington State Convention Center, an Annex and the Seattle Sheraton. Someone told me that the total number of people registered was 14,000. Unless you count music festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, I’ve never been around that many people in such a concentrated space.
There are oodles of writing-related panels. In fact, for every time slot, there are, oh, I don’t know, twenty or more different offerings. And then there are outside events, readings, contest winner announcements, drinking with some vague literary theme in mind, and then more panels. There’s also a bookfair, which is huge. This one was split into two separate rooms, that’s how huge it was. Booths everywhere. Books everywhere. Writers milling around booths and looking at books everywhere.
I was a total AWP virgin, open to all kinds of impression and experience.
So, here are some things I learned over the last three days:
I was eleven. I loved things that not everybody loved, like thunderstorms and rainy days, winter, outer space, darkness and the feeling of mystery. I thought about things I read, either for school or for fun, and pondered them long after I’d finished the book. I thought over events in my life the same way. I looked for meanings, for connections, reasons, patterns, philosophies. I had a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings and I was always exploring them, taking them deeper, writing them down. On Saturday mornings I woke up early and sat in bed writing stories. I was just starting to figure out who I was. I felt vivid, like a full moon in a sky full of identical stars.
Our counselors tell us to go to bed, so Leah, Monica, Eva and I have to return to our room. Monica wants to go to bed and keeps telling us to shut up. We try to talk quietly until she falls asleep. Eva and I tell Leah about my first year when we went on an overnight campout in tents and I stepped in a huge pile of dog shit and didn’t know it and they made me throw my shoes outside.
After we all stop laughing, Leah says, “So hey, where do albinos come from?”
This is another installment of a rough draft of a memoir chapter that covers fourth grade. This is final episode, I mean installment for this chapter (which is way too long and needs some epic editing sessions). This story comes to a close.
Late in the school year we took another musical instrument test. I didn’t even look at my grade, just filed the paper deep in one of my black folders with the neon pink and yellow squiggles. The folder was so full now that it was starting to tear at the crease. Mom would have to look through a lot of dittos to find it. I would find this folder years later in the basement of our new house in New Jersey. I’d gotten a D. Mom had never found it, or never said anything.
In the last week of class, we had a lot of fire drills, to meet some regulation. One time, Matt Peer was behind me in line as the class filed in and used the water fountain on our way back inside. Matt Peer, my 107 true love. I drank some water then swirled away in what I imagined was a supremely flirty move.
On the afternoon of May tenth, when my dad got home from work, he and Mom sat me, Randy and June down in the living room. What could it be this time? Though it had subsided for awhile, the way light fell on the wall when I walked in from school was creeping me out again. The light was yellower, more spring-like, and it reminded me of something else I couldn’t remember and it made me feel like something terrible was imminent.
Dad spoke first this time. “The Bureau has transferred me,” he said. “To Newark, New Jersey.”
“Well not exactly Newark,” Mom corrected as if we, at ten, eight and three had ever heard of that city and its reputation for dirt, drugs and crime.
“Right,” Dad agreed. “A field office outside Newark called West Paterson. We’ll be looking for a house in one of the nearby small towns.”
In class I overheard some of the more popular girls, Katie and Ann Marie, talking about the Baby-Sitters Club. Ann Marie told everyone she had called the 555 number in the books for Mary Anne and asked for her. “And the guy goes, ‘hold on, just a minute,’ and I got so nervous I hung up!” We all looked at her. I wasn’t part of the conversation but we were into the same books, and she wasn’t making fun of me. That was something. I could almost pretend this made us official friends.
But close only counts in horseshoes as my dad liked to quip, and Mom was back on her favorite train, the “you need to make more effort to make friends” express.
“Why don’t you invite someone over?” Mom asked. “Someone other than Maya.”