I was driving home from Indiana last weekend with my boyfriend’s mom when suddenly, two vehicles ahead, a car veered a sharp right and zoomed off the road.
It plowed down the ditch, up the ditch and across a plain of grass until it smashed into a tree.
In just seconds, the car had reached its final destination, vastly different than where it had set out to go that morning. Though the car was stopped, the wheels were still spinning.
A young woman, a middle-aged man–they jumped out of their vehicles and sprinted through the ditch and across the grass. They tried to yank open the car door, but it was locked. They pounded on the windows, again and again, fists hitting glass hopelessly.
No one answered, but the tires kept circling, around and around and around.
It’s late on a rainy Monday night, and I should be going to bed.
Instead, my mind is living in that fantastical (and absolutely crazy) third-eye place, where it narrates my thoughts as though I were writing them. My thinking is floating text in my head, begging to hit paper.
This happens when I write all day. When all day I think in terms of writing.
This happens when I have a lot of things to figure out.
I had the chance to meet and grab coffee with two supporters of the theatre where I work the day after I got back from my weekend trip. He was an outspoken man, a bulldog with a big heart who apologized upfront for his biting humor. She was spirited, albeit gentle. She sat across from me modeling a bold bandana, a sweet smile and an honest opinion–given only if you asked.
30 minutes in, she told me that she had cancer.
Like a switch going off, I abruptly noticed him. I noticed him watching her. I noticed how he listened–really listened. How he never interrupted. How he smiled when she smiled. I noticed the shimmer in his eyes when I said, “I’ll be thinking of you.”
And the way he–not her–replied to me, so simply, softly, “Thank you.”
Have sincerer words ever been spoken?
I am a 20-something living a very different life than my parents, my grandparents or their parents before them. I am thousands of miles from my ancestral roots, my family’s homestead, my prairie upbringing. Presumably many of you can relate.
The world keeps getting bigger, the more I see of it, yet despite knowing firsthand that there are thousand of paths to choose from–all that end the same–I find I’m still terrified at the multitude of mistakes that await me. Of the pain down the path.
I see the stopped car and those wheels spinning, spinning, spinning–so tragically, so pointlessly. I see the illness behind the bandana and the raw heartache of just one smile and just one ‘thank you’.
I see this all, and I want to freeze the clock, here, on this rainy, rather unremarkable (and completely safe) Monday night.
Life is fragile. I imagine that if I can be taught this firsthand twice in 24 hours, each of us will learn this and relearn this thousands and millions of times in our lives, God willing.
When I grow up, whenever that dreaded day might arrive, I hope I can face the reality of life’s precariousness with bravery. I hope I can look at the future, its big unknowns, its unavoidable pitfalls and inevitable heartbreaks, and rise to meet it, regardless.
Tonight, though, spring rain falls, and my mind like wheels spins.
Tonight, I give myself a little grace. It’s Monday, after all. l’ll let myself soak in these memories and try to make sense of these moments.
I’ll stand still in this one spot, as though standing in a rain puddle during a thunderstorm, watching the thousands of droplets around me, fall.
I’ll stand here and now and wait to see if tomorrow I choose otherwise.
I was reminded tonight of one of my first ‘real’ jobs in high school.
I was one of, I don’t recall exactly, perhaps ten or so locals who were selected to be sandwich artists at the very first Subway to arrive to my hometown.
We were interviewed and selected amidst plywood, power tools and tarp, as the building, tacked onto the end of the town shopping center along Highway 81, was not yet finished.
On the first day of training, I cut my finger on the tomato slicer. Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of the Subway elite (they’d come up from Nebraska to train us), I tried to hide the injury. I kept my eyes glued on the presenter teaching us 101 kitchen safety and meanwhile pushed paper towels against my finger to try to stop the flow of blood.
My friend Lori, who was also in training, had a better angle on the stack of paper towels. She casually slipped me sheet after sheet, as a I discretely slipped the bloodied ones into the trashcan beside me that was holding the tomato discards.
I remember it took a long time for that cut to go away.
Homesickness is a funny thing. When I first left for school, I anticipated it. Now, going on eight years later, I don’t see it coming before it arrives.
Homesickness slips its way through the seams into those cracks of anxious anticipation, quick change or slight hesitation. It drips and it drools, and I don’t really know what to do with the mess.
Mostly, it frustrates me. It feels like an Achilles heel, for lack of a more original comparison, and I become irritable, feisty even, about this reoccurring weak spot.
I’ve learned so much about you, Pennsylvania, and now and then I want to shove it back your direction. I want to tell you a thing or two about South Dakota, because you don’t know.
In South Dakota, when you see a line of cars coming down the highway you know that a ball game just finished. And when Dad has to wait for a car to turn off our gravel road onto Highway 81, he grumbles, because waiting for traffic is not normal.
In South Dakota, you don’t call your aunt an ant, because that would be an odd reference to her size.
In South Dakota, appetizers are only for holidays and dessert, 9 times out of 10, contains flour.
In South Dakota, the beach is at the river, keeping your gold-level rating at Starbucks is impossible since the nearest is an hour away, and hugs are just for family and close friends that you haven’t seen in a long time–and Grandma, always.
In South Dakota, spring is dictated by the weather, the moistness of the ground and district basketball games.
Daylight savings changes when you eat supper, because it effects how late the farmers can stay outside working.
Geese signal the turn of the season clearer than billboards.
Sunrises remain as beautiful as ever, but the air–uninterrupted by noise or building– carries a palatable freshness your lungs have been craving.
And you step into that beauty and breathe deep, knowing soon, new life will spring in the fields that surround you. Soon, the days will grow longer, and you will fill each fuller to accommodate.
I hate that my childhood home is somewhere that is not near anyplace anyone is going.
Yet, if it were any closer, I fear it would lose its desolate charm.
Oh, how strangely amusing and absolutely enchanting it is to have unintentionally frozen this soft, sweet place in my mind as though it were a golden twilight never to be had again.
Here is a horrible comparison:
Sometimes homesickness feels like a cut from a tomato slicer.
It’s just the most ridiculous thing to miss something so imperfect, and yet, I keep holding the paper towel to it, trying to pretend it’s not there,