hello to all that.


(omglessthan) Three Weeks

I get the email first. I roll out of bed that morning, up early to meet the lovely miss Emily Joy for breakfast pre-826 and there is another “Peace Corps has updated your application status” email. I’m sort of sleepily puzzled, more than anything. I  just got one of these, some maybe promising, slightly inscrutable blip about my placement review being completed. I log in, just as I have to nod in agreement with many small checkmarked milestones before, and there it is, and my whole nervous system goes BAOOOOGA and I gasp. I slap my hand to my mouth because the screen says something about Congratulations! You’ve been invited to serve and shiminyywhoblahomgwhatwhatwhat. That’s all it will tell me, though, that I’ve been invited, that a packet is in the mail. I tell Emily and no one else until it tumbles out before Kortney and make our customary split at the corner of 5th and 9th that afternoon. It’s managed to fall into the background of the day’s routine and it feels a little like huh Peace Corps invited me isn’t that kind of funny?

I shop for game night treats ingredients, wander the TJ’s aisles in no hurry, sip free sample coffee and hunt around Atlantic Ave. for cream of tartar. It’s raining a little, and I’m calm. It’s out of my head in a way my one-track mind isn’t used to.

When I get back to Greenpoint I have to run to catch the B48 back to my apartment and I get on, unsteady in soaked shoes, heavy bags in each hand. There’s an older, scruffy man sitting towards the front of the bus and he puts out his arms to sort of spot me, makes sure I have a seat. His arms are wide, bracing. I ran no more than half a block but my heart hasn’t stopped pounding. It’s back. I try to rehearse what will happen in the next few minutes, when I get home. I’ll put the groceries away, sit on my bed, and calmly open it. But with every beat and breath and bump its Africa, Africa, Africa. The trees in McGoldrick have never been greener as they blur past and the sun is out now, a little, Africa, Africa, Africa. We get to my block and it feels like the ground is unsteady and the street is now very open but tunnel visioned, turning in on itself, my door is eluding me, I can’t walk fast enough, it’s there in a FedEx envelope (3 lbs!) and I grab it, run upstairs, tear that fucker open.

I’m barely breathing when I see the letter and the “Congratulations,” yank out the Assignment Description and say it aloud for the first time, “Sierra Leone”, my shaking, rain smudged fingers over my mouth again as the quick tears come and I leap to Google, dig hungrily through the rest of the packet and repeat it over and over again, Sierra Leone. I have thought about the word “sierra” recently, how I would some day like to live or at least spend awhile in a place called Sierra ___. In the same way months ago, I rolled the word “fiance” around on my tongue and in my brain after overhearing a girl on the 4 platform say it, and when I got above ground my phone rang. It was Emily calling to tell me she was engaged.

The “June 2-3” part of it all sticks out like an exclamation point and it’s all so soon and sudden and utterly incomprehensible but my god it all feels a little right. And this is what I tell my parents after I wait, pacing and anxious and frustrated for them to call me back when they were distracted, my dad yelling in the background the first time I called them. We all calm down and they let me talk, and I cry and cry and tell them that it’s not because I’m scared even though I am it’s because I think it’s what I need to do and it is.

(The groceries, for the record? Stayed bagged, sweated it out on the kitchen table for a goooood while that night.)

It was three weeks yesterday that the Big Blue Envelope came, and three weeks from the day before that I’m on a plane to DC, where I’ll be for staging and orientation for two days before we’re Africa-bound. The weeks between then and now, between now and then, are their own stories. I’ve been tripping around between excitement and fear, between more complicated stories of wrestling with my relationship to the moment, to my final days (for now) in this city. New York is a difficult place to be in transition. It’s whole schtick, it’s whole lure, its reliable flirtatious works-every-time magic relies on possibility, the keep your head down and work for it and bam, it will deliver, the “making it” part of it all. This is a place for discovery, inside and out, for whatever it’s worth. So it’s harder than ever to find my footing lately, because the conversations that brought me back down when New York left me flailing, the new corners and quiet moments that become only and suddenly mine, these stir me differently now. I’m leaving, this much is known. I don’t have enough of a routine here to enjoy a goodbye at a slow burn. Until my (bittersweet)  final days in the places that have nurtured me most here, I’m still ambling around in a place that is at once still new, and one I am, in many ways, ready to leave. I’m a little antsy now, in conversations with newer people, because the inevitability of my leaving weighs heavy, pushes down on the potential that keeps those conversations feeling warm.

Nina pointed it out so well a couple weeks back, when I told her I swore I had things to tell her but couldn’t at all remember them. She nodded. “It keeps happening to me too. It’s cause you’re leaving. Loose ends.” It hasn’t stopped since. I’ve had the same sensation with nearly every person I’m close to. I’m unspooled, somehow transient, unsure of where to direct my heart. I’m ready, I think, for a little closure. Goodbye parties and packed boxes. I’m ready for Buffalo. (Remind me of this, will you? When I have to say these actual goodbyes, leave the little families I’ve become a part of here, when I’m falling apart at the goddamn seams? Ah New York, in my heart you are nothing if not your contradictions. Looking forward to what nostalgia dreams you up as. Will report back.)

I did 400 repeats with NBR the other night, reaffirming that my love for sprinting in running is consistent with that in swimming (amount of love: LOW). I met a girl who’s headed all over Africa for close to a year working with the WHO, and she talked about her PCV friend in Ghana, caught her breath while I gobbled up her steady monologue about the “bonding” between expats, let her metered, pre-med way of speaking, her easy smile, root me to the spot, send me running home glowing. Earlier, when we were rounding the last corner on one of the toughest 400s, I could see the whole other side of the park, a wash of bodies amid the green, the dusk setting the whole thing ablaze in late April orange and the same nameless voice that says run. go. faster. come on. said simply: remember this. Africa, Africa, Africa.

*For those of you following along with my shamefully intermittent ramblings, I’ll be keeping this blog when I’m in SL rather than making any kind of new PC-specific incarnation. It just feels tedious, mostly, and it’s not like I’ve been so utterly prolific here that I need to start a WHOLE NEW BLOGGITY BLOG to match mah new adventures. So, yup. A blog with a url in neither English nor Krio to chronicle my life in Sierra Leone.  Internet access will be shoddy at best, but I’m looking forward to all the indulgent reading/writing time, and hope to put a few brain dumps here whenever possible–a peek back into the blog world to keep myself good and narcissistic while in the bush, if you will. Also, pls to note the new legal jargon up there in the top left. Fancy!



Messy mishmoshed montage on another word that starts with M

I had one class with her, “American Woman Writers.” I’m not sure that I ever even spoke to her more than twice, but she had long hair and bright eyes, and the kind of gait and long skirts and ideas that invite. That spring I went to New Orleans to visit the sisterbear, and there she was, we passed wordless on the street. A half second too long to be strangers, too short to turn my sudden awe into hello. Three years later I walk through Union Square and she passes, unmistakable. We both see eachother this time, and I try to collect myself from my sip of cider and post-run tangle of sweat and frizz enough to say “Hey!” She returns it, and in her smile there is warmth, and less surprise than my own. There is something like knowing. Her name is Esperanza, hope, and this is no coincidence.

***

I make my maiden voyage to Baked after making their spicy brownies (via Smitten Kitch), over-chipotle powdering them and crying over this because it was finals week, and yeah–need I say more? and re-making a correct batch to stellar results. I set my sights on Red Hook, and on Baked, soon after moving and after the action-packed day off I’d hoped for gets whittled away by delays and waiting and Life, Lauren, Francisco and I finally end up there just before closing. I soak up the adorableness, the being-here, the baller pumpkin whoopee pie and salty brownie and coffee. But on our way out I stop, gasp:

These are my plates, the plates. I selected them carefully from a little sale display at Room, doubtless the only thing I could afford in the entire store. It was the end of the summer right before junior year, when I would move off campus. You need mugs in a dorm, tumblers that will crust over and get recycled come August. A set of plates from a local store, designed by SCAD students in coordinating, but not matchy matchy patterns that are square and unique and dare I say “innovayytive”? Those go in a house. I bought the small orange and green one, and went back before senior year for the larger orange one on the bottom (and another green, not pictured.) I have never even seen a suggestion of them anywhere else, ever. As I look around, flailing and camera phoning and unable to say little more than “The PLATES! Lauren! Our house!” at this point, I realize the whole motif of the bakery is designed around them, around the deer silhouette.

They’re plates, I realize. Plates. But out of all the plates and the paths and the hours and the clicks and the choices and the months and the cities and the boroughs, I ended up here. Standing in a space designed around an object which had become a small, important part of a life I was slowly building, in part for and by myself. “Out of all the–!” I said it into the walls, into the cold snap of air back in the street, but I couldn’t even. I was breathless and beating with it; the lightness, the weight.

***

After yoga one night I sit next to fellow mat-carrier while waiting for the L. “Did you have a good practice?” he asks. He smiles and we both read our books–both red– and get on the train. We sit across from each other and I fumble to turn pages and hide my stares. When I get off, I look down to meet his own upward half-smile, both red. In them there is no possibility, but there is magic in the meeting.

***

It’s one of the coldest nights of the winter so far, and I’ve somehow forced myself out the door and on to the McCarren track. I was expecting a smaller crowd, sure, but tonight the park is barren. Until a few bundled up and brave dog walkers join me, I am the lone person on the track, period. I’m listening to Regina’s “Far” and nothing but, and as long as I keep going, around and around and around, I don’t get freaked out by this, and don’t notice the hiss of my breath in the icy wind. It’s one of those runs, common to a crude and heartening and familiar cycle. Whole days can stretch into one fog. I wear and eat the same things, do not read or write or run enough and all is as finite and unmovable like the very limits of my body have grown tired of their daily reach and fingertips and eyes and nose retreat back, into a coiled dark, big as the world. A customer says “how are things?” at the exact, right moment. A card from Sarah comes in the mail. I connect with somebody–a loved-somebody, anybody–and they get it. I put on my sneakers and remember again (and again, and again, again) that I love. To. Run. Remember It. And so I work my way back. I’m getting there tonight with every stride, and my right foot hits the ground right on top of a small white square. I pick it up to find it’s a tea bag tag, inscribed with a quote, as seems to be their wont lately (much to my delight–two for you Yogi tea). “And what he greatly thought, he nobly dared—Homer” I have embarrassingly read not a lick of Homer. But “great thoughts” play out like daydreams on my runs, and live there a little too comfortably, a light that wanes.

I love this city for its contradictions, for what one block gives and one corner takes each day. This may be the only way I can live, right now. There is still so much I haven’t yet dared. In between the long gazes, the dark places, there is possibility; magic in the meeting.



The following are the contents of my head NOT currently occupied by WTF just happened with that Kanye/Spike Jonze situation (a SIZEABLE space)

NPR is warming our living room and leaking through my door, as is its wont on coze weekday nights around here. During some report or another, Brooklyn was mentioned, and Jonathan said “Brooklyn!” as I was crouching in front of the oven, checking the status of my sweet potato fries, the air hot on my face and smelling like a perfect precarious mix of something melting and rosemary.  We had ourselves a little mock “hayyy, represent!” moment and for the first time, it didn’t feel like someone else’s Brooklyn, someone else’s New York. On so many Sundays here I’ve crossed the floor again and again with empty water glasses and fresh mugs of tea, my progress marked by “It’s 2:37pm and 65 degrees in Central Park” and the two never connected, this place and that place and my place in it. They’re starting to, in their own way. There’s a lot of image and an armour of romanticism to get through here before the notion that it can hold any part of your roots can even be dreamed.

But more importantly, can we get back to those fries, and give it up for fall veggies? Way to only require an oven, olive oil, and minimal seasoning to rock out with your savory out, kids. Sliced up yam, with a garlic/rosemary corner and a chipotle powered corner, to leave the rest of the cookie sheet with nothing but sea salt and a readiness for a good slog through lots of honey? Was perfection tonight. I ate them with what I’ve been eating for a not insignificant portion of the past few weeks: some variation of brown rice with black beans and an assortment of tomatoes, peppers and onions. It is simple and ridiculously easy and reflective of my broke-ass lifestyle but I have not tired of it. I eek out as many meals as possibly from each pot of rice but when I eat it I feel rich and pleased and satisfied. I could live on the ol’ R&B, is the real truth. (I didn’t even realize what happened there, but to clarify: both the beans-and-rice kind AND the music kind.) My heart aches for famdin and ambitious cooking though. Big pots of root vegetable-laden soup are on the horizon for sure.

Oof. There is so much to say. About right now, and last week, and the past month, and how it feels like–not that things are falling into place, because that is not, of course, what things do. They scatter and surprise and delight and crush and slip and fall from edges and light up without any warning. They have no place in which to go, not for long, not now. But it feels like the right choices are being made, and that ones that were made have weathered the necessary sacrifice to end up here, almost functioning. It feels good. Most of the time lately, I feel content in a way have not in a very long time. In one minute I turn 22, and I feel good about this. I feel worlds better than I remember feeling on the eve of my 21st birthday, which just may be what now marks a solid year of uncertainty and quiet panic and a total lack of center where once thered been what I thought to be my core: contentment and a settled peace I had no idea could become so frighteningly detached.

I’ve been daunted by the task of needing to fill a space with part of you since I was handed a blank paged book with a hard white cover on the first day of fifth grade and told that this was my science journal. I stared at it and freeeekt, wondering how I would ever fill it, unable to imagine the rational, sane pattern of assignments that would follow. I felt the same way when I got here, and sat on the bare mattress of this little room, suddenly scared of it all, and unable to unpack or process until I closed my eyes, fell asleep and woke up a little while later, still addled, but able to move. It happened again with graduation, only it was you know, life. Here you go, it’s yours! We’ve handed things out and dropped you off and we’re already on the way home, but you’ve got what you need now, so see you later! I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at how I reacted, and how long I took to begin to settle and to move again and to heal, given the scale. I guess I’m at my best when I’m actively filling these things, whatever they may be, moving too much to notice until one day I am changing the paper towel roll and baking potatoes. And on my way out the door I turn to find a made bed,with shoes lined up underneath and pictures on the wall and a table with sundry receipts and menus and a tea bag drying in a mug, and veritable evidence of a life.

And so here I am. In the past two months or so I’ve felt the change in my bones. I’ve given myself over to this city and its contradictions, and the things it hides from me so carefully, insisting on the discovery that keeps me in motion each day, red cheeked and breathing hope. And then for three days I escaped it for New Paltz, for the inimitable comfort and reaffirmation of a team, for the perfect and ridiculous and so damn heartfelt girly bursts of pride and excitement for a milestone, for people I want to grab and say I live better when you’re here, for apples and ridges and hilltops and cheers and Bravo and chlorine and singing along as HARD as my lungs will allow to this and this.

When we had fires in Eva’s backyard this summer, my favorite part was watching everyone’s faces, the way they seemed to glow infinite, one after another in an invincible circle. I’ve been looking at all my friends that way lately, including the ones I can’t see. We have no idea where were headed, but nobody is going anywhere. Look how we move, look how we live.

This nasty chest cold has kept me from running for over a week, but that ends tomorrow, no matter what state my lungs wake up in. This needs to start right. I’m turning twenty two grateful.  Thank you.