Woke up Friday morning thinking of Brooklyn. Wanted nothing more than to slip into jeans and onto 5th avenue. Wanted to hear the rush of the traffic, the bits and pieces of strangers’ phone conversations. Wanted to see the funky outfits, the children rushing in nonlinear lines. Wanted to hear my stop on the train. Mentioned I was homesick and someone tried to remind me that the city was dirty and crowded, that when I was there, I was tired and broke.
But they don’t understand what it’s like to ride the N train to Canal street, push your way out to the Lower East Side, glance at the Brooklyn Bridge and then weave through the market in Chinatown. That’s all I wanted. Just wanted to walk slow until I reached the Highline. Wanted to breath in winter. Breath in the here-ness of a million strangers, all spiraling in their own galaxies of creativity and hustle and grit. Someone at the restaurant called today to make a reservation. He gave me his phone number. It started with 6-4-6. I smiled and asked. Why yes, he is coming from New York. Told him I had moved here a few months ago.”How is it?” Ah. I smiled to the side. “It’s doing its job. I’m saving time, saving money, I’m less tired.” He smiled from the other end. “Well, that’s good.”
I woke up this morning and pressed my face to the pillow, trying to pray. Worked my way awkwardly down a list of concerns for the day. Made eggs and a smoothie. Grabbed the last muffin and the rest of the trail mix, drove the nine minute drive to work and grabbed my usual spot on Power St., where the signs say no parking between 8 and 10 am. I slip out the car at 9:55 and walk down the hill.
That stranger on the phone is right. Things here are good. In the city, I was shaken and stirred, rattled and tossed like a boat on a storm-stricken sea. Here, I’m learning to settle. Sometimes I eat breakfast on the floor in the dining room because I want to sit in the sun and that’s where the sun hits. And sometimes I stay in that spot for forty-seven minutes just staring. Staring at the backyard, at the squirrels stealing seeds from the bird feeder, at the cats treading carefully on the winter-hushed ground, at the birds hopping from perch to perch, at the words I’ve etched out on a blank page. I look up to find the morning fading into noon. I want to jump up and hurry, but there’s no where to be but here, learning unhurried rhythms. They fit over my body oddly at first, like a new language on an untrained tongue.
Sometimes in those moments of ordinary waiting, I catch my cosmic breath, quick and sharp. I’ve gone from living in the nation’s biggest city to the nation’s smallest state. There have been no grand revelations, no big job offers, no epiphanies, no plan. There have been two part time jobs, three dozen quiet mornings, and countless conversations that have stretched me from the inside out. God seems quiet and life seems slow in its unfolding. I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing it right. Urgency pulses through my body like electricity. All the classic questions meet me as I fade to sleep: Are you here? Did you lose me? Do you remember?
Work ends at 5, I walk up the hill to the Athenaeum, my favorite haven in the city. It’s easy to slip through the cracks. I know this from twenty-something of fighting to be seen and remembered. When you don’t stay in one place for too long, you learn how to hit the ground like a fighter jet, rush off the runway hands extended, eager to say hello to whomever makes eye contact. You get used to running around, remembering names, hoping they remember yours. You don’t linger for long on small talk because you know at some point, the engines will fire. They’ll call your name over the intercom, and you’ll be off again. You’ll be up there with the clouds, hoping someone saw you, hoping someone wrote your name out slowly, said it one letter at a time, remembered your laugh, the way you forget something every time you leave the house, your favorite coffee order, your birthday.
As a little girl, I watched the world fly by from the backseat of our old Cadillac. Watched Tennessee turn into Texas, turn into California. Sometimes there were wild flowers on the side of the road and I’d beg my father to stop the car. We couldn’t. We had to get places on time. So I would stare as hard as I could and file that wild deep in my mind, along side the other things I loved like books and hand written notes. My father did not share my love for wildflowers, but I got his love for the highway. When I moved to Asheville, I would point my car towards the interstate after work and drive for fifteen minutes, going no where, blaring Kings of Leon, my mind calmed by the quiet of the open road, by the way the headlights sliced the dark road, by the way the white lane dashes clip-clip-clipped underneath the car. I’d get off on a random exit and turn around and go home. Once at sunset, I saw a field of wild scarlet poppies, three feet tall. I angled the car off the road and walked slowly among them, hands outstretched, my breath caught up in webs of awe.
I was a woman by then, a lone traveler, a city lover. But I never forgot the rooms of my youth, their walls lined with books I’d collect, books that were stuffed with flowers I had pressed, journals covered with photos of faraway places I would visit in time. We’ve been talking about all those things, You and me. They’re on the table, out of my hands. I don’t know if You’ll give them back. I’m busy in the meantime, writing, settling into ordinary living. Sometimes I chase magic though and tonight that brings me to this old library. Per usual, I look for the travel section or something on cities. I settle for the Nellie Bly biography I’ve been reading slowly and sit at the last desk on the second floor.
I don’t know if the words to my prayers make sense. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. I don’t mean to sound greedy when I ask for help with this and that. I hope you can see through all that. Through the poorly constructed sentences, through the songs I hum on my drive to work, through the listening words I write in my journal, through the mornings I sit on the couch and don’t say anything at all. I have seen your miracles. But this is not a time for miracles; this is a time for process. We are learning new words and new rhythms. We’re going steady, Your hand over mine, learning one letter at a time.
Sometimes You leave, give me time to practice. I think You have forgotten. But then I look up and consider the world around me. I have seen You in big ways, but You have lately been evidenced in the little ways too. Like right now. It’s Friday; 6:42 and time to go home. I close my book and stand, looking at the books on the shelf next to me. I stop zipping my coat, my eyes widening. In front of me are four volumes on Wildflowers of the United States. What are the chances? I laugh a little and pull one out, glance at photos. That’s amazing! I put it back. I grab my scarf, but before I can leave, my eye catches another title and my heart jumps. How funny, a book on cities! I pull it out and flip through photos of Shanghai, Chile, Argentina. So weird a book on cities and wildflowers together. I shake my head…two of my favorite things. I gather my purse, knowing I’ll be late if I don’t leave now. But then I see more: a huge book on travel right next to a travel specifically for women.
The librarian doesn’t know why I’m grinning when I say goodnight. She doesn’t know how I daydream about teaching English in Thailand, spice shopping in Turkey, or sipping coffee in Portugal. She doesn’t know how I’m working two part time jobs so I can have time to write about cities. She doesn’t know about the wildflowers I framed in my head as a little girl, speeding across the country and back, keeping track of herself because no one else could, writing letters to friends with purple gel pens. None of the strangers I pass know these things, nor the song I’m humming. I don’t even know the song I’m humming. I don’t know if it has words, if it’s in tune. All I know is that it’s spilling out uncontrollably from the body of a woman who has suddenly realized that she is seen and remembered, that she and all of her wildflower, scarlet-colored dreams are safe in Everlasting Arms.