Tuesday, August 23, 2011

some things change, and some things stay the same

Last night I stood in a kitchen I am still learning to call "mine" and peeled small red beets I'd thinned from my mother-in-law's garden. I sliced them into quarters and steamed them on the stove. Then I turned to the bag of sweet peas in their pods, snapping their ends and sliding my thumbs through their seams to release little green balls of the freshest-tasting green into a white ceramic bowl. On Sunday, I stood in the relentless sun in the garden's tangle of vines, trying my best to tell weeds from food and pull the right ones, wearing the same dress I'd worn that morning to the country church of Josh's youth and a borrowed pair of rubber boots usually reserved for egg-gathering, my hands covered in dirt. Leaning over to pull a pea pod from the vine, I slit it open with my nail and pulled off its peas with my teeth: they were warm in my mouth, and so very green-tasting that I was back in my grandma's garden in Michigan, back in my own suburban backyard seeking out growing things with that green scent or taste, a green that only remains for moments after something is picked. I had forgotten my childhood longing for that scent, that flavor, and here it was again, on my tongue, 1,700 miles west, 5,000 feet up, and 20 years later.

Moving is hard work. Leaving a beloved place after five years is hard, period. I find myself reaching for drawers and light switches in this new apartment that do not exist here; I find myself thinking about heading down to Lake Michigan, or checking on the gardens on my walk to campus, or getting cheap Thai takeout (which also doesn't exist here!) ... My body knows the space it occupied for those years, and my feet know the sidewalks, and my arms know the breezes, and my palate knows the flavors, and my cooking impulses know the available produce. Not to mention my heart, and what it knows.

I am already in love with this place, as I have been for years on visits, and its broadest of skies and its strange afternoon rain storms. I have a handful of kind friends here, a hilarious family that is generous and good to me. I live a three-minute walk from a hiking trail, close to idyllic community gardens, streams and creeks. I am learning the fingers-up-off-the-steering-wheel wave and head-nod that signify human connection with anyone I pass on a country road. The mountains are heartbreakingly beautiful in their layered horizon presence, blue and shadowy and green and grey. On Sunday, driving north, Josh and I saw not just deer but also a black bear, ambling up and down a grassy hill.

But here there are no Sunday morning Mexican pastries, no Sunday night youth group craziness, no Monday night women's storytelling meetings, no cooking for Friday night girls group, no potlucks at the beach, no Thursday afternoon playdates, no being honked at and shouted greetings by name across the street on any given day. There are no five-minute snatched catch-up times in the library, no checking in at the grad student office, no Dunkin Donuts coffee (!!!). There will not be several months of autumn, my favorite season, with deciduous trees all gloriously aflame. There are serious gaps in life, now, and I mourn the losses.

And yet--my fingers know the feel of butter rubbed into flour and baking powder and salt and cinnamon. This is the same. As is the voice of dear friends on the phone, the rhythm of their punctuation in emails, the shape of their handwriting in letters. Same, too, are the common everyday tasks that keep life moving: the chopping of vegetables, the toasting of bread, the boiling of water, the hauling of laundry baskets up and down stairs (!). I know these books that line my shelves, by sight and touch and scent and weight. I stream the Chicago classical radio station over the internet, comforted by the voices of those dearly familiar broadcasters. I tidy, I bake, I eat, I sleep, my head cradled by the same pillow as always. I dream of then, the past and the future. I miss the ones I love, and I take hope in the patch of light falling over that same old broken couch, and I make a life here, little by little. I find beauty in the differences, and beauty in things that never really change.

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