Places I Have Been To

September 10, 2013

I went to church last Sunday. It was the first Sunday of the church year. Everyone came early for a pancake breakfast hosted by the youth group. I’d actually been at the church since Saturday night since I had been one of the chaperones for the pre-pancake breakfast youth sleepover.  (I am either a very brave or a very stupid woman.) As I moved around the halls, directed guests to the bathroom, and found a sugar bowl for somebody in the kitchen, it occurred to me- I feel at home here. I am a member of the club.

You know the feeling I’m talking about? When all the sudden you look around whatever space you are in and realize- you know where stuff is. You know the names of people around you, you even know if they are people worth knowing, and you move thru hallways and rooms with ease.

The church is the latest in a long series of places I made my own.  I’m sure for many, school is the first thing that comes to mind.  Not for me. As a matter of fact, for all the time I spent in school, my memories are mostly of feeling lost. Literally. I have a lousy sense of direction, every year classrooms are different, they were usually located on different floors. Kids in classes changed, and every few years, buildings changed. To make matters really difficult, when I was 12 my family moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

I suppose, on a much smaller level, I got a sense of it over at friends houses. Going over to Leslie’s and being able to drink from the water jug in the fridge reserved for family members. Over at my first boyfriend’s house, I was entrusted with the location of spare key, and knew the names of all of his cousins. He only had three cousins, but I’m not that good with names. And of course, the Stanfields. Their home became the back up home to many teenagers in Mountain Lakes. I knew where to find the corn nuts, and what bedroom was likely to be unoccupied, or mostly unoccupied. Of course, so did about seventy five other kids between the ages of 15 and 18. But it was nice, knowing my home wasn’t my only home. Especially since things weren’t always so easy in my home growing up.

Skip forward quite a few years. My first true sense of belonging to a group, and knowing where I fit in, was when I settled in Boston, and discovered the club scene. And the bands. (And the members of bands. Whole nother story.) And the drugs, and the right ratio of drugs and alcohol for just the right buzz. I remember how it felt to saunter up to the front a line, nod at the bouncer and walk in a front door. How I felt so damn special to be granted entrance into a dark, crowded smoky room, with minimal bathrooms, insane lines- to buy a drink, pee, even to grab a seat. I became familiar with the bartenders, did my research and sought out the johns no one else knew about, and became particularly skilled at lurking behind someone getting ready to leave, then swooping in for their spot at the bar before they’d even picked up their keys. I knew where the stairs were, where the elevators were, where the back doors were, who bartended on which night, and who might be willing to pay for my drinks.

And the best part… Everybody knew me. By name. After years of feeling pretty damn anonymous, I had circles and circles of friends. I had friends to go out to dinner with, friends to sleep with, friends to stay up all night with, friends to play scrabble with… I had lots and lots and lots of friends. I spent piles of money, had, from what I remember a damn good time, and woke up from it all when I was pregnant with my first child.

Then I went back to feeling like I had in school, a little bit lost.

When I sat down to write this, I was going to list all of the places in my life that weren’t my home, but that felt like home.

And this is what I found out- there were the clubs in Boston and Cambridge in the 90’s, there is the space between my two kids anywhere in the whole world, and there is my church. My church is a place that practices something called “radical hospitality”, and I guess they really, truly do. At least in my case. My church is a place where we have twenty minute conversations about which class will work for a nine year old who is more mature than most, but needs to make more friends in his grade. It is a place where there is always coffee, though I often have to make it, or find the filters. Where the minister is my friend, and I swim with the Youth Advisor most mornings, (not at the church, it’s not that nice.) And where when the conversation turns to Social Justice, and it often does, it is not in the abstract.

I’m glad I finally found my way there.

I don’t care what people say, unless a woman lives under a rock, she is probably prepared for childbirth. And everybody knows that time goes by quickly, that one day they are babies and the next, they are slamming doors and smoking pot, (or so I’ve been told). These are two truths that are always brought up when the conversation turns to the things in life that surprise us, and tell me, is there anyone you know that isn’t aware that having a baby hurts a lot, and time flies, even if you aren’t having fun.

What no one ever mentioned to me when I was younger was all the people I would lose as I got older. I’m not talking about death, or break ups. I’m talking about the friends and family that have quietly disappeared from my life. I was talking to my daughter the other day about a  photo we have on the mantel, she is a baby, swaddled in the every girl baby must have, a pink blanket, and she is held by a smiling Uncle John. After admiring herself, she pointed at the smiling Uncle John. “Who’s that?”, she asked. “Uncle John, you remember Uncle John!” “I don’t remember Uncle John. Is he your brother, or Daddy’s brother?” “He’s a friend of our family. He’s, he’s, he is your Uncle John. He lives in Dorchester.” She stared at me blankly. Katy doesn’t know where Dorchester is, she doesn’t care where Dorchester is, and she can’t figure out why I seem to expect her to figure out who this smiling man in the picture is based on a location she only hears about when her father is talking about traffic. “He gave you that blanket,” I remember. I watch her face.

“Mom, I was a baby then. I don’t remember getting that blanket. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch last week. When was the last time I saw him?”

And I thought about it. And I thought about it some more. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen my dear friend John. A long, long time since I’ve seen Simon, or Alex or talked to Patricia  on the phone. It’s been years since I discussed literature with my cousin Daniel. Decades since I laughed with Andy, listened to Kent play the guitar or listened to Andrea whine about her husband.

So many people have slipped out of my life when I wasn’t looking. I know everyone is connected these days, and almost anyone can be found, but how would I start a conversation with some I haven’t spoken to in twenty years- “Hey, having a baby, really hurt, hunh? And did you check out how summer seems to go by in a week these days?”

Some people fade away because of geography, some disappear, or fall out of touch as one settles down, and one climbs the corporate ladder. And what makes me sad, when I think about these people that I have loved and lost, is that I miss them. I miss them when I hear a song, or glance at a photo, see someone driving down the street with a familiar profile. Some many of these people are always just on the edge of mind, like a lost library book, or a dream hours after waking up.

Honestly, I don’t have the time right now to reach out to these people whose numbers filled my phone books (remember phone books?), sat across from me in restaurants, got me on guest lists, toasted me at midnight, and brought me aspirin in the morning.

My life is fuller than it’s ever been. Two kids that have reached the ages where I drive them around a lot. And I’m happy to because some days that’s the only time I get to speak to them.

In the past five years, I’ve created a whole new circle of friends, in the town where I live. They are wonderful people, they appreciate good books, often offer me really nice wine, and read the NY Times.   lot of them have kids too, and commiseration can be fun. I love these new friends of mine fiercely, and make sure I let them know as often as I can without seeming either needy or stawkerish. I only wish sometimes they knew a little more of my history, who I was before I became Julie, mom/writer/student/lousy housekeeper/sometimes funny, usually kind, when cranky I don’t speak much. The Julie from before was an interesting woman but kind of a mess.

I guess it’s not surprising I’m missing some people from before. And even though Julie 2.0 has things a little more together, I’m sure there are some friends that will fall off the radar as I move forward thru the rest of my life.

I just wish I had known when I started to make friends, real friends, not those based on proximity or the first letter of a last name, that I wasn’t going to stay friends with most of them. I would have liked to have been a little more attentive, taken more pictures, maybe told a few what I found so special about them. I wish I’d known, just a few times, when I was spending time with someone that I was never going to see again. Or that I could have been a little more aware all along that not everyone we love stays on our speed dial forever.

No one warned me about that so I just told you. What you do with the information is your own business. Maybe you were in a sorority 30 years ago, and text your sisters every time you are at a stop light. Maybe your families is just like the Waltons. Maybe you don’t have any friends and you don’t want them. But you’ve read this far, so I’ll end with what I’ve been trying to say all along.

Everyone always tells you to hold your kids close, they grow up so damn fast. All I’m trying to say is hold all the other people in your life that you love close by too.

Tonight, the world doesn’t make much sense to me.
Our corner of the world has a Christmas tree with a crooked angel that opens and closes her arms, not enough lights and tinsel that seems to end up on the floor. Two kids are upstairs sleeping. Sophie the Wondrous and the Magical Dog is staring out the window, waiting for the return of Michael, the Delightful, Disappearing Cat. The dishwasher hums, the radiators rattle, the keyboard clicks.
My world makes sense tonight if I fill my mind with the noises here, right around me. For this, I know I am supremely blessed.
I want to offer prayers, that doesn’t seem to be enough. Hugs, oh my God, hugs? I want to fold the whole wide world inside my arms and have it all make sense and wake up tomorrow to a place where it all does. Make sense.
So tonight, I will pray. Tonight, many, many of us will pray, though some may call it something else.
Tomorrow we will wake up and watch the news, have difficult conversations with our children, shop, wrap, grieve.
And tomorrow night, we will pray again.
Until the night we forget because we are tired, or tipsy, or lost.
Or until the night, the prayers are heard.
We’ll see.
Tonight, the world doesn’t make much sense to me.

Tonight, when I pulled in the driveway I had an overwhelming urge to hug my house. The whole house, the dust balls, and old bird, the crazy puppy and the weary sofas, the two short people that I knew would come spilling out the door any minute, (or not, depending on whether the dragon movie was near the end,) the stairs that collect dust more intensely and successfully than i’ve ever collected anything in my life, the bathrooms that need washers and washing, I wanted to hug the whole package.

And so I am. And anybody that stumbles on these words. I’m hugging you too. Thank God it’s Thursday.