The summer after my freshman year of college, I spent six weeks in Bakersfield, California living with my cousin in my grandma’s house.
Every day I would walk downtown to the coffee shop, drink an iced coffee, eat a chicken salad sandwich, and write at a table by the window. One day, I needed some contact solution at the drugstore and thought I should pick it up before I walked back home. I knew the drugstore was somewhere by the train station, but when I got there, I couldn’t find it. I saw a young black man in a red teeshirt standing outside and asked him if he knew where CVS was.
“Yeah,” he started to explain but then cut himself off – “Oh you know, I’m not doing anything – I’ll just walk you there.” No, I said, that’s fine – but he insisted. All summer, I had been followed by men in broad daylight until they gave up or I found some place to duck into like an antique store. But I wanted to be nice to him because he was being nice to me, so I let him walk me to CVS where I bought contact solution, a little annoyed. Continue reading “A Day With A Stranger: Bakersfield”
The sound of strangers sending nothing to my head. It’s hard to be away from you not because I need your presence and your thoughts; it’s just the beauty of the city I am experiencing alone, and after a while I want to share a bit of it with you and no one else. Right now, the fickle July sunshine of a windy day is making marbled shadows like rippled water on my pages and it’s hard to focus. It’s like every moment the world is trying to pick me up and lift me away. I look at a benevolent breeze moving the leaves in the trees and the pigeons line up to watch me in my solitude.
Heavyhearted plans. Time is moving so slow. It’s everything I wanted, but all the change trips me up, and my gratitude has nowhere to go. I’ve wasted the weeks you’ve been gone because it felt so good to spend a morning drinking iced black coffee alone in my room. I haven’t written that much; I haven’t eaten once before noon. I haven’t cooked or even cleaned. When I don’t have somewhere to go, I take the train and I look out the window at the Williamsburg Bridge, thinking about how my sunburn feels and what it’d feel like if you pressed your fingers onto my skin.
So indulgently carefree, my body spreads out in sleep just like the slow motion videos of a flower in bloom. I suppose my routine is as good as any other one. Last night, I dreamed of my bed sliding away from the window while I slept. I lost grasp of the pillows (squares of sage-colored cotton) like a determined, acrobatic ghost.
My family moved from Texas to the Berkshires when I was twelve years old. I went to middle school, high school, and eventually college there. It’s become where I’m from, where my life began, so it’s hard to remember when those windy country roads were new to me. Driving home at night, I knew all of them by instinct. I’d be the only one on the road, and the pine trees in my headlights would be lonely and empty.
I spent most drives home my senior year of college lovesick, listening to music and smoking cigarettes out of the window of my emerald green 1993 Honda Accord that used to belong to my my grandma. I’d be driving home from my boyfriend’s dorm – I wanted to stay longer every time, but I had to sleep at home and shower before class in the morning. At first it would be serene, listening to the stereo, smiling because I was young and in love and remembering all of the things we said to each other, but as I got closer to my parents’ house, there was that familiar alienation, the island that was living in this town, that was being from here.
I was one of the only local people at my college; everyone else was from somewhere totally different like California or China, and they were all living in this bubble, a temporary world, spinning fast. (I was too, most of the time.) They were away from their parents and their hometown friends and could start over here. The last week of college, my friends and I all cried thinking about what the last four years had meant to us and how nothing would be the same outside of this special place. I thought of my last ten years in the Berkshires. I thought of the eternity that was my adolescence. People would go into the woods and never come back. Cars hit black ice and slide off the road: your friends disappear here. Heroin flew through the parking lots like clearwater streams. There’s another one, I’d think when I ran into some people I had known a long time ago. Continue reading “Pine Trees In My Headlights”
I turned eighteen the week before I flew to Paris. My plane almost got cancelled because of Hurricane Irene, and as my father drove me to the Newark Airport, the roads flooded and trees were strewn along the highway. My first few hours in Europe were in the Charles de Gaulle airport, where in my exhaustion, I proceeded to get lost for hours trying to find the head of the study abroad program who was supposed to take me to my host mother’s apartment. At one point, I gave up and sat on a bench, crying and watching people pass by. When I did find her, we took the train into the city. I was trying hard to be nice and cordial, but I was embarrassed and hungry and tired. She seemed disappointed. She told me my host mother’s grandchildren were visiting so I couldn’t leave my room tonight. In my room, I had a mini fridge with a bowl of clementines and a jar of instant coffee on top, and a white desk by the window. In the middle of the night, I woke up to rain hitting the window and panicked for a moment, then remembered I was across the world and that wasn’t a hurricane, just light rain cooling the air. I opened the window and saw the yellow, glittering reflection of the Eiffel Tower in the glass.
I woke up at 6 AM the next day. I had slept all I could. Everyone else in the apartment was asleep. I decided to walk up and down my street because I hadn’t even left the building yet. Outside of my room, Paris was a scary, dangerous battlefield; my parents and the study abroad packet had convinced me to keep my purse close and my money in a money belt on my body under my clothes. I would have to ignore people who’d pretend to spill things and attempt to rob me.
But I walked out in the bright, sunny morning and all of a sudden realized how young I was. I was in Europe for the first time. None of the stores were open and the only people on the street were businessmen and businesswomen heading to work, and some of them smiled at me when I passed them, and some didn’t, and some were smoking cigarettes, and some weren’t. It became apparent that I was very far away from home. The black circular streetlights and the white buildings with black terraces and flowers. The neatly groomed trees and the little blue and green street signs in thin white font. Paris wasn’t some imaginary place and no one was going to rob me. It had felt so hypothetical before.
Continue reading “Lost In Paris”