The Lost Girl Lets Go

There’s something about the midday nature of the appointment that gives it a furtive cast: The putting on of mom-like clothes, stockings and “better” shoes, garnet lip gloss and a comb pulled through my hair, to give the appearance that I am a more organized person than I actually am.

The keys clatter in the quiet as I lock the door, get in the car, and drive out of the neighborhood, careful to make sure I have the directions and the insurance card.

All the empty houses appear deserted and drowsy: everyone’s at work or school, and even the homeschoolers are hard at work by the kitchen table, their younger siblings laid down for early afternoon naps.

Then I’m on the ribbon of highway that carves through the as-yet-ungentrified decay of Washington, D.C.’s East Side—blessedly empty, with neither traffic nor construction, the now-obsolete RFK Stadium spun out on the right like a spectacular piece of road kill.

I love the steadying narcotic of driving like this: “[T]he freeways become a special way of being alive…the extreme concentration required in Los Angeles seems to bring on a state of heightened awareness that some locals find mystical” reads a quote from Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, which I found in an essay on Joan Didion, whose novel Play It As It Lays is what I am trying to remember as I plow through the Nation’s Capital.

Then, before I know it—because there is no traffic—I’ve spun off myself—off a cloverleaf and onto a surface road that is clustered with mid-century, mid-rise apartment towers. Collectively, there are perhaps hundreds of these, off every exit of the Beltway, and aside from the barest variations—Virginia looks marginally newer and more big-boxy, Maryland grittier and more industrial—you could be in Chevy Chase or Springfield and not know the difference.

[Read more…]

Cutting Away the Noise

Fifteen years ago, there was no end to the noise. It took a cutting to get me to silence.

I worked twelve-hour days and longer in an aircraft hangar on a flight line of hundreds of helicopters with the cacophony of auxiliary power units, the collision of metal, and rotor blades beating the air outside, sounds so loud earplugs and noise-canceling helmets were required.

After my shift I would climb into my car and turn on the radio, classic rock or country at a moderately high volume, and drive home to my condo. There I turned on CNN while making something simple for dinner. I watched the thirty-minute circuit and then left it on for company.

Other noise and other stories ensured I didn’t go too far into my own deadening loneliness. I found silence terrifying, though I didn’t see it that way then. I liked motion, and noise, and doing things. I talked a lot. That’s where I saw and added value, where my sense of self worth lay. [Read more…]

Road Rage and Repentance

Driving other day, down a busy city street, one which I drive once, twice, sometimes three times a day—scanning a block or two ahead for double-parkers, changing lanes to dodge left-hand-turners and get away from slow-pokes—I had an epiphany. A manifestation. A showing. It wasn’t pretty.

An SUV rode on my tail. I called the SUV by name—that is, by a certain seven-letter anatomical term, even as I felt the pleasure of making it through the a signal turned yellow while watching the SUV get stopped by the red. Gotcha!

I actually said it aloud. And then, not even a block later, the SUV zipped past me on the left. Didn’t the driver see the double-parked UPS truck ahead? Guess not, but I did. And I’d be damned if I was going to let the SUV sneak back over at the last minute, the way more and more drivers do these days.

What is it about San Francisco? In my early driving days, some thirty years ago, drivers waited until it was their turn; vehicles filed in order—left, right, left, right, from two lanes into one; cars pulled over for sirens. No more. Is the dot-com boom to blame? Skyrocketing housing prices? Too many cars? [Read more…]

A Requiem for Rejects

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
—Isaiah 53:3

Six or seven years ago, a coworker of mine played a drunken game of chicken with a semi-truck on his bike at ten o’clock at night. His funeral doubled as a memorial service and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

My coworker, whom I will refer to as Flip, was an adjunct member of the faculty in the same university department that employed me as a lecturer. Flip was in his early forties, wore horrible Hawaiian-print shirts, and spoke with the glibness of a used car salesman.

“Got any advice on how I can butter up the ol’ boss and get a full-time job like yours?” he once asked me. Nope, not really, Flip.

I refrained from attending his funeral, but two of my coworkers went—out of obligation more than anything else. Neither of them knew him particularly well. They drove home absolutely gobsmacked by what they beheld that night.   [Read more…]

Weakness is Truth

A couple of weeks ago in the gym locker room I averted my eyes as a young woman aided her grandmother, a stroke victim. She removed the older woman’s clothes and underwear, and helped her put on a swimsuit. The grandmother could not speak; her face remained still. She had to be lifted, naked, from a wheelchair, to a chair, and then back during the entire change of clothes. After settling the elderly woman, the granddaughter disappeared momentarily, and I dared to look at the grandmother’s frozen face.

For a moment I imagined myself sitting in that chair, in that locker room, naked and unable to hide. I shuddered and hurried to change out of my own suit and leave.

Growing up an uncoordinated asthmatic, I was self-conscious about my body. I feared looking foolish in front of my peers, so I avoided trying new activities and instead, mastered the things I was already good at rather than risk exposing my weakness.

I’d shrug my shoulders if I received a compliment. “It’s just easy for me,” I’d say. [Read more…]