Thursday, September 20, 2012

no exit wounds

This morning, I wake up two hours before my alarm is set to go off.  My eyes snap open.  I haven't moved a muscle, but I'd swear my body was made of lead.  I'm sobbing in an instant, and I gradually work myself up to a near-hyperventilating state.  Dial Mom.  No answer.  Dial Daddy.  He picks up.  They're still in bed in Phoenix, but I don't care that I'm waking them up at 6am.  I haven't called like this since the summer I watched someone die in the middle of West End Avenue.  And I haven't had a morning like this in years.  Last time I had a nightmare this horrifying, I was sixteen, and I crawled right into Mom and Dad's bed, crying hysterically between the two of them, no questions asked.  In my dream eight years ago, I held a gun to an abuser's head.  This morning, the gun is on me.

As far as I  can tell, I'm doing NGO work somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan in winter.  It's biting cold and desolate.  The sky is one great slab of heavy gray steel, a perpetual dusk with no clouds, no movement, no change.  Everything is eerily still.  

I'm in what seems like an abandoned hospital or army barracks.  The place is desolate and mostly uninhabitable, save for a few others like me and some locals roaming about, presumably because they're too old or frail or tired to go elsewhere.  I stand on a second-story terrace, watching another woman like myself run after a supply truck that's mistakenly left with a stack of emergency blankets we desperately need.  She's banging on the back of the cab, choking back cold, chalky dust until the driver stops.  We have our blankets.  And the rations of food they left.

Then I sense a shift.  Someone who is supposed to be on "our side" suddenly is no longer. I don't know who he is, but I know that yesterday, he was an ally, and today, he is not.  Standing on a hill about fifty yards away, dressed in a smart red uniform, he turns from his lookout position and fixes his sights on me.  I am startled, but he gives me a knowing look.  Knowing I could never move quickly enough to outrun him, I take a breath, turn my back, and brace myself.  Why his loyalties have shifted, I don't know, but he seals the deal with three shots: two square in the middle of my back and one in my head.  

I'm face-down on the floor and acutely aware of the pain at first, but my body goes into shock quickly, and soon, I don't feel much.  I have no exit wounds in my abdomen, and I don't know what's going on with my head, but I am somehow able to stand up, wander the mostly-empty corridors, and ask how to get to the nearest hospital.  It seems everyone else here has resigned themselves to this losing battle and cannot bring themselves to muster much concern for my current state.  

At the end of one corridor, I find a young, white-coat American woman whom I hope might be able to help me.  She reads my face in a single glance and understands my situation immediately.  

"I'm prepared to die," I tell her, "because I know where I'm going."  And it's here that I lose what little composure I've managed to keep.  "But I just have to get home to my family.  You don't know what this will do to my parents." 

She is kind and sympathetic, and I'm comforted by something she mentions about God and His purposes.  But she can't get me to a hospital.  Her advice is the same as that of everyone else here: find a cane and start walking, or come up with $15k for a MedEvac.  My situation is becoming more bleak and absurd by the minute.

I leave the corridor and stumble into some sort of kitchen where, inexplicably, my dear friend Mitch is washing dishes.  I collapse against him, sobbing, and he just stands there, stunned and dripping soap suds into a puddle on the floor. 

By some twisted bit of luck, I have cell service.  But I can't bear to call my parents.  Instead, I text them both vague "I love you" messages and decide to call my little brother.  I'll tell him everything.  He has to take care of Mom and Dad and Chelsea.  He has to be good to them because unlike me, he gets a shot a living a bit longer and being a part of their lives.  I'm about to call him...

And that's it.  That's when I wake up feeling like I've been encased in concrete.

I don't know what dreams like this are supposed to mean.  But I know they remind me of how much I cherish my time here on Earth with the people I love.  This morning, I made sure to tell my parents I love them.  And as she was running out the door to work, bewildered by her crying roommate crumpled up on the sofa, I told Hanne I love her, too.  And I'm saying it now to the rest of you: I love you.  Whether I see you daily or haven't seen you in years, each of you means something to me, and I count myself immensely blessed to have you in my life.  My life would be nothing if not for the people in it.

If you can, tell your parents you love them.  Tell your wife or your husband.  Tell your siblings, your nieces and nephews, your friends.  

Life is short.  Make love a priority.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Food Not Lawns

I have a new obsession: Goodreads.  It's both a website and and iPhone app, and the bookworm in me simply cannot get enough of it.  While browsing book suggestions based on what I'm currently reading (The Velvet Rage... and Animal, Vegetable Miracle...), I ran across Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. Which got me to thinking: how on Earth did we ever get to laying down a bunch of potentially-clover-choked sod in our suburban backyards instead of planting gardens?

More than ever, as a New Yorker with very limited personal green space--I have two flower pots, thankyouverymuch--I miss the backyards I had growing up.  

home on the prairie
In my childhood subdivision, we lived on a quarter acre with a massive greenbelt for a backyard.  I'd get lost in the trees and moss and blackberry bushes for hours, making forts with my friends and dreaming of getting that tree house I always wanted Daddy to build. 

When we moved south to the Prairie, we had even more space: five acres of hay and crab grass. I remember our first season on that land very well. Dad rented a "billy goat" and a roto-tiller from the local Hertz, and we spent hours upon hours pounding and chopping and grinding the earth into submission, only to see it reclaim its wild ways a few months later. Eventually, our alpacas made good use of the space, but apart from that, our five-acre expanse--which now seems like an insane luxury--went mostly unused. Granted, Daddy's love of trees ensured we planted our fair share of paper bark maples, weepings spruce, and my personal favorite: a larch.  But save for a few flower beds and a relatively small plot we kept maintained for blueberry bushes and, eventually, some out-of-control raspberry bushes, our yard was just one massive lawn-mowing project.  Even on a gas-guzzling riding mower, it was a four-hour project just to keep the grass in check.

my front yard from 6th to 12th grade
The Northwest certainly lends itself to gardening, or so it seems.  In reality, our yards are more often seeded and mowed and edged, then decorated with beauty bark and lava rock, then sufficiently doused in moss-killing, bug-ridding chemicals.  We wage war against dandelions, clover, and fields full of daisies.  But I wonder how much more we'd gain from our green space if we gardened instead.

I distinctly remember being awestruck by two particular gardens as a child.  My next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Hatfield, was an elementary teacher and an avid gardener.  Some of my fondest memories are of her weeding around her rhubarb plants in her green rubber, leather-trimmed Sperry slip-ons.  I had no idea what rhubarb was at the time--I eventually learned it pairs well with strawberries in a pie--but I knew I loved her garden. And, for that matter, every book she ever gave me for Christmases and birthdays and for looking after her dogs while the family went away on vacation. (Mrs. Hatfield, I still read Holiday Handwriting School every time I go home. :) A perennial favorite.)

The other garden I loved so dearly was at my godfather's house.  Uncle Ron, as I called him, had a massive garden surrounded by a fence taller than me to keep out the deer.  Zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, broccoli...his was certainly a garden of plenty, and when we'd visit in the summer, we always drove home with a load of fresh produce--and usually a box of freshly-picked apples from the front yard, for good measure.  

berries from the garden, summer 2012
I realize that gardens, however big or small, require constant upkeep and effort.  But really?  If we took all that time we spent mowing and edging and fertilizing and pesticide-spraying and spent it on a garden instead...WOW. That would really be something.  Or if you really feel like cutting loose, why not pull up some of that grass and throw out a few handfuls of wildflower seeds?  We did that one year on the prairie, and the outcome was glorious.

So if you're one of my lucky friends with a little bit of a yard, think about growing a few things yourself this year.  Strawberries, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, corn... just start somewhere.  I, for my part, will try to coerce some basil into finally growing--and staying alive--in one of my little clay pots here in Harlem.  As for the apples and squash this fall, my girlfriends and I will just have to take a Zipcar to an orchard upstate if we want our bushel of seasonal delights.  I'll be sure to document all my (hopefully successful) attempts at apple pie, applesauce, and apple butter.

In the meantime, happy gardening--and say goodbye to that riding lawn mower!  

Thanks for reading! Love you all. xo

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

a lesson in shallow thinking

Let's be honest. As much as we like to think of ourselves as uncritical, as much as we hope to be concerned with what's on the inside and not on the outside, we're massive failures. We've been raised in a culture where looks matter, and it's hard to maneuver around that.

I'm riding the train right now with a woman who, ten years ago, would have been the perfect candidate for Extreme Makeover. Her chin is virtually non-existent. I look across the train and imagine what a little nip-tuck work would do, and I want to slap myself. My God, Mollie. Who do you think you are?

And just to compound my feelings of guilt at my shallow judgements against this woman, I catch a glimpse of the book she's reading: Dying Well.

For all I know, the woman sharing her train ride with me could be dying of cancer--or God only knows what. How stupid of me to suggest, even to myself, that she'd benefit from a little cosmetic help.

On days like today, especially, when life seems just a little more precious, just a bit more fleeting, the reality checks seem to hit me at all sides. Shame on me and my simple-minded foolishness.

So for her sake and mine, I hope my neighbor on the train is well and fulfilled and perfectly joyful about the life she's been given. She'll never know it, but she just taught me a very important lesson: live well and love the life you have right now.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Eye on the City, Part II

Finally, here is the long-promised follow-up to "Eye on the City, Part I."  While the majority of my blog posts center on a single topic or theme, some things about life in the City are simply too fleeting, odd, or just plain difficult to categorize to constitute an entire post.  But I hardly think the quirky little fragments deserve to be neglected.  So here they are, in no particular order, for your amusement.  Or so I hope.

1. New Yorkers love their movies.  The bigger the franchise, the better.  Hanne, Britta, and I stood in line down on 34th Street with all the other novel-turned-movie junkies to see The Hunger Games in IMAX.  And this is what the wait looked like.  Mind you, we saw the film well over a week after it had premiered.  I think it's safe to say New York had a hand in setting all those box office records. 

And let's not forget to mention the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, a New York City institution.  If you don't mind crowds, and have a blanket, snacks, and a few hours to spare, you can see a free screening of a classic film almost every Monday night of the summer.  Emily and I saw the last show of the summer, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And this is the insane crowd that turned out.  The line to get in literally wrapped halfway around the park.  Look out, folks.  Serious Indy fans here.


2. New York sometimes gets a bad rap for being frigid, self-serving, and relentlessly frenetic.  But it's mornings like this one in early April that remind us how New Yorkers also invest significant time, money, and energy on broadcasting the kinder bits of life still happening on a daily basis.  If you missed it the first time around, be sure to see Mom and Chelsea on Good Morning America (their segment starts at the 2:37 marker). Make sure you've got your box of Kleenex.   

And as if being on GMA isn't cool enough, you might get stopped in the middle of the street by a total stranger who recognizes you from the program and wants to tell you how your family's story made her day!  Yes, New Yorkers will do this.  Everyone loves a little humanity. :)

3. New Yorkers are fast food pioneers.  This City gives new meaning to food-on-the-go because nine times out of ten, when the guy behind the bagel counter asks you, "To stay or to go?"--the markedly East Coast departure from the West Coast "For here or to go?"--you're gonna say "to go."  Capitalizing on that tendency are the City's ubiquitous food trucks.  

While in town for Good Morning America, Daddy passes one such truck.  Since he's on his way to meet me and wait in line for tickets to Anything Goes, he passes up the truck, along with his breakfast.  We get our tickets--and our Starbucks, thanks to Mom--and then Daddy goes missing.  Pretty soon he turns up, looking a bit glum. "I tried to find that truck, but I think he rolled away," he tells us dejectedly. Not two minutes later, we turn the corner, and there's the disappearing truck. "Aaagh! It's here!" he shouts.

We walk to the Schwarzman Building and sit on the library terrace.  Daddy's breakfast is just what he hoped it would be.  Nothing like a bacon and egg sandwich--and his girl, of course--to make that man's morning. :)

Next time Daddy's in town, we'll have to do a food-truck tour of Union Square.  He'd eat himself silly here:

4. Nothing brings out the best of this City like a good cause.  Charity walks and runs are HUGE here, and the AIDS Walk might lead the pack.   

The day of the Walk, the Apple Store opens its doors the help facilitate the smartest, most efficient check-in I've ever seen.  Walk downstairs, plug your info into one of the dozens of iPads being used for check-in, pick up your little bag of goodies (including a beautiful button!), and you're on your way.

After you check in, be sure to get a good view at opening ceremonies.  Because you never know which folks from the casts of Mad Men and Glee might show up.  And Carolee Carmello might sing.  And David Hyde Pierce might be sitting in there in the front row distracting you the entire time from all the other cool people taking turns at the podium.

And then you join this fabulously proud, passionate (albeit slow-moving) mob of hopeful New Yorkers:

And when, halfway through the walk, you come upon a wizard, you won't be surprised.  But you will snap a picture for posterity (and the blog).

5. Further attesting to New York's endearing weirdness are the many "holidays" celebrated here, including International Pillow Fight Day.  Before Chelsea and my parents got to the City, I made a special trip to the Brooklyn IKEA for $1 pillows.  Best investment.  And what a ridiculous way to have some fun on a spring morning in the Village!

That's all for now! Thanks again for reading! Love you all. xo