Monday, February 18, 2013


I dated a guy in college who hated California.  He said he felt closed in, surrounded on all sides.  Neither of us lived more than just a few miles from the ocean.  I didn't understand, I told him.  All we had to do was stand on the shore, eyes on the horizon, while the tide sucked the sand from under our feet to understand the vastness of the world and the limitless possibilities around us. We let it lie between us, one of the many reasons why things would never work out for us.  Eventually, and perhaps ironically, it was an ocean that came between us.
He was from Indiana.  I visited his home with him one summer.  The first thing I noticed when we landed were the corn fields that began where the runway ended.  Unlike the runway, the cornfields didn't end.  As we drove from Indianapolis north, it seemed that every road was lined with vast and limitless corn.  I made sure to point out to him, probably more than once, that we were, quite literally, surrounded on all sides.  Completely closed in by corn.

I returned to the midwest later, how many years I'm not sure, with my husband, my five-year-old stepson, and our 3-month-old infant.  We drove for over a day without stopping to visit my in-laws.  I'm not sure how many hours were added by the fact that I was still nursing our son--stopping at rest areas or pulling to the side of the road as his demands called for.  It didn't occur to me at the time, couldn't possibly have occurred to me, to look out my window at any moment to see the worlds we were passing through.

I couldn't tell you much of anything about that first trip except that our bed was horribly uncomfortable, and I sat on it crying to my husband and desperately pumping my breasts because I simply couldn't sustain our baby, who was later diagnosed with GERD, with my limited milk supply, probably a result of what was later diagnosed as PCOS.  I remember sitting on that bed listening to my father-in-law's TV on the other side of the wall feeling miserably incompetent as a mother, my husband and I both completely ignorant of what to do.

Since that first trip, I have returned to South Dakota at least every other year.  And as things tend to do, the insecurities and confusions of those days have dissappated to soft memories, gently clouded and discolored where they need to be.  Now I can look outside of myself when I'm there, and I understand what that once-long-ago boyfriend said. 

Standing at the edge of my in-laws' drive, the earth stretches on to where it whispers its secrets to the setting sun.  You could walk and walk until you reached an ocean.  And in spite of the limitlessness of the sea, it is the end of a place.  When the sand is sucked from under your toes, you cannot chase it through the wild grass until it reaches a meadow where, if you are lucky, you will see a deer emerge to check that the world is safe for her fawns.


The infinite not only touches this place in its space, but also its time.  Sons farm the same land as their fathers.  Houses are left to decay, windows broken, resigned to fate; perhaps eventually someone will bother to tear them down.  For now, the old white farm houses are a surrender to not just the passage of time, but the uselessness of fighting against it.  Unused silos stand sentinel where they have not been replaced by the modern behemoths of agriculture. Tractors slow traffic on highways.  There is a forgetful old man behind the counter at the hardware store.  Main Street still exists.

This place that once belonged to a boyfriend I didn't understand, now belongs to my father-in-law, my husband, and my sons.  Slowly, it is becoming mine.  I sit in the shelter above the harvested corn fields and watch the pheasants play.  The wind roughly rattles the walls around me, thick with the scent of the miles it crossed before reaching me.  I understand better now the endless open miles.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Must read

The Huffington Post is running a series in which authors answer the question "Where I like to read?"   Although it started in January, I just discovered it since I am presently obsessed with the thoughts of writers and the creative process.  My favorite thus far has been from T. C. Boyle.

I read everywhere. And my least favorite place, hands down, is on an airplane, my knees shoved up into my throat and my skin still smarting from a good TSA working-over, the clouds curdled and death imminent. On the other hand, I do like reading while stretched out on the couch before the fireplace, music pulsing through the speakers, the very old cat puddled on my chest, rain—precious rain—hissing through the interstices. And in bed. And sitting at the kitchen table. In the shower. On the toilet. In the pool at the Y.

I read Malcolm Gladwell's after T.C. Boyle's--by contrast, Gladwell likes to read on planes and inconsistently capitalizes I as a proper noun.  They are occasionally hilarious (Chuck Palahniuk) and sometimes disappointing (Joyce Carol Oates).  They are all an interesting window into the habits and thoughts of very creative and talented people.

Monday, October 29, 2012


The light of the fall evening has begun to fade as the sun rests behind the buildings of the old middle school.  I have friends who went to school here, more years ago than I want to count, but it has long since been closed and converted for other uses.  The grass on one part of the field is crisp and dead, straw-colored.  The two fenced baseball fields are still tended to by the local little league, though the idea of being "tended" is perhaps generous as the state of disrepair has been a constant since my oldest boy started playing here almost five years ago.

I view baseball season with, at best, reluctant enthusiasm.  I want my boys to play, to learn, and to grow.  I see it happening season after season on these fields.  But for the most part, the weather in spring and fall is miserable, fluctuating between oppressive heat and biting cold, both with equal parts wind.  The wind is so constant here that the trees grow at an angle, and I can frequently be heard lamenting that baseball is not an indoor sport.

For six months out of the year, our entire life revolves around baseball.  As each of my boys has grown old enough to play, the schedule has become increasingly hectic.  With the increase in chaos comes a corresponding shift in my temperament.  I bristle at those first calls from new coaches as they lay out the schedule for us, explaining exactly how much of our between-season free time they will be taking away.

Lately, I find myself growing more and more disgruntled with the shuffle, with squeezing needs into spare moments, with knowing that one small shift will throw off the entire day.

On this particular day, there has been a small shift, I am already exhausted, and the end of baseball season cannot arrive soon enough.  I drive to pick up my oldest, and while I wait for practice to end, I begin reading a book I have tried to start several times before.

I am parked on what used to be the basketball courts of the middle school.  The hoops and backboards have been taken down, but the paint on the asphalt has not yet faded entirely.  I have pulled my car into one of the fading keys.  I roll down the windows; it is a perfect evening, the air still and tinged with the smell of leaves changing colors.  The binding of my book cracks slightly as I open it.

                People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me
                it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations,
                with each passing moment.  A single hour can consist of thousands of different
                colors.  Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues.  Murky darnesses.

I close a finger between the pages of my book, lean my head back, and look out the window into the autumn half-light.  In the distance I can hear the boys playing--the sharp aluminum ping of a bat making contact and the far-off echoes of voices still untouched by manhood.  Childhood permeates the air, and the whole world is color, both muted and vivid, saturating each sound and scent and feeling.

Practice will end, I will finish this book, and we will slowly, moment by moment, crawl toward each new season.  But for now, there is this.

With credit to Markus Zusak's novel The Book Thief.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Just so

I like certain things in my life to be just so.  (This, of course, not applying to my house or my car which are both in perpetual flux between pristine and disaster.)  I compulsively wipe the fingerprints from the screen of my phone.  The scuffs on the toes of my boots that I love to wear and cannot afford to replace drive me crazy.  I wipe the kitchen faucet to a shine almost every time I walk past it.

So the deep scratches on the back of the door-lock-remote-control-thing for my car (is there a technical term for it?) were starting to bother me.  Like, a lot.  As I walked rubbing it, the ridges bristling against my fingers the same way they bristled against my nerves, I decided that I would simply ask my husband to swap it with his.  He hardly ever drives my car, and (if his habit of leaving dishes full of standing water in the sink is any indication) he is far less annoyed by small things than I am.

But then I knew I would have to explain how it happened.  I don't like explaining situations wherein I ruin, mar, or otherwise cause damage to something that potentially costs money to replace.

You see, my blue-eyed four-year-old and I were skipping through the parking lot at the grocery store and my keys skipped their way out of my pocket and landed under my foot on the asphalt where the back of the door-lock-remote-control-thing for my car was gouged.

It happened while I was skipping with one of my almost-big boys.


I don't think I'll be asking my husband to swap with me after all.

Monday, October 15, 2012


We are planting our fall garden when my blue-eyed boy 4-year-old asks my husband what we are doing.

"Planting vegetables for winter," he answers.

My blue-eyed boy replies, "Like snowflakes?!"

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Today is the 10th anniversary of my first date with my husband.  That is if today were September 27.

September 27 came and went with the normal run around of baseball practice and dinner with in-laws and practicing for spelling tests one last time.

I remembered today.  October 9.

I am not one for the schmaltzy romanticism of some relationships, the kind that commemorate the 4-month-2-week-and-6-day anniversaries.  For the most part, as long as we actually remember that it is our wedding anniversary, we consider it celebrated.  Sometimes it falls on a holiday making it impossible to commemorate alone.  Twice we have been lucky enough to escape the chaos of our day-to-day for an anniversary weekend away together.

But September 27--and occasionally even September 20, the day we met--has always been one of those days that lingers in the back of my mind, even if I'm not looking forward to it on the calendar.  It's like my grandmother's birthday.  Even though the date is no longer permanent on my calendar, it never passes without the momentary remembrance of what that day would have been.

I have mixed feeling about forgetting.  It is disheartening to think that we have become so ingrained in our daily shuffle that we have lost all romanticism, all spark of joy that provides a relief from the monotony of our normal.  I worry about becoming just roommates, even though understanding the fragile give-and-take required of living with someone is an inevitable part of marriage.  I don't know how you know for sure how to make a marriage work for 15, 20, 25 years without having already been married that long.  Maybe forgetting the novelty that existed at the beginning is part of forgetting what brought you together in the first place.

But the fact that the normalcy of our lives superseded the remembrance is comforting.  I can say honestly that most nights, after we have collapsed into bed and he scoots his leg against mine, I remember to be grateful.  I find it difficult to sleep when I don't have the warmth of him next to me.  I treasure the simple intimacy of being married, those moments when I know exactly where he is and what he is doing by the simple clink of a dish, the shuffle of a piece of paper, or the softly muffled footstep on the ceiling above me.  Maybe forgetting the anniversary of our first date is part of celebrating every day since then.

Maybe all that matters is that, eventually, we remember.