I don’t know what I’m doing, by the way. This is what I said to Mani, as we got ourselves situated to work and write over iced lattes. Starbucks in Amherst is often where we do this when we need a change of scenery, but the thought of voluntarily spending any time in an air-conditioned space on a summer day like this sent us over the bridge to Woodstar Cafe, which has outside seating. What I meant when I said I didn’t know what I was doing was: I don’t know what I’m doing right this minute–writing, or playing with the bajillion questions and details we covered with our awesome wedding planner yesterday, or just spacing out and people watching.
So writing, it is. About what? That remains to be seen.
For us, Northampton, “where the women are strong, and so is the coffee” (or is it the other way around?), is a teeny-tiny taste of a little more happening than what happens in Amherst, where town is, well… yeah. Right now, I’m sitting across from Mani, both of us behind laptops, but I can peek up and steal glances at her eyes and at the look of intense concentration on her face. Earlier, we sat at a different outdoor table, an unexpected morning oasis of delving into new library books. Today, I started and finished Rebecca Walker’s Adé: A Love Story, which I thought was a memoir until about twelve seconds ago, when I looked at her website and saw that it is a novel, which rocked my experience of the story in some imperceptible way. Mani opened Roger Bonair-Agard’s new collection of poems, Bury My Clothes and came up for air only occasionally to read something to me out loud that took our breath away and made us want to read everything this brilliant man has ever written, not to mention to meet him in person.
Last night, she surprised me when she said I slow her down in many ways–all of them good. I’ve been described as a lot of things, but slow isn’t usually in the top five or even ten. It made me happy, that this is her experience of me. And today, I found myself dropping into that pace and inner place of slowing down. It was inside of slow that we walked from our house to the library, carrying a canvas bag of overdue books about the Revolutionary War that Aviva had checked out for a school project. It was saying yes to slow when we got there and I began putting the books in the outside slot, when Mani asked if I wanted to go inside. We browsed the new books section before getting in line and comparing titles, especially the ones where one of us had almost picked it up. And then, the timeless thrill, of telling the guy at the counter I needed a replacement card and getting one. Just like that!
We decided to get coffee and sit for a while, laughing again when we both went to take the books out of the bag to take a picture. No, we are not sisters–in fact, Northampton may be one place where people do NOT ask us that question on a regular basis–but we definitely seem to share a brain much of the time, a fact that makes me quite happy. If I have to share a brain with someone, hers is about as interesting as they come.
A working girl’s dilemma of how much can be squeezed into the weekend, no longer a dilemma at all. We sat, and we read, in the shade at a little table with a red umbrella behind some restaurants. By the time we got home, it was past noon, and we ate cereal with peaches and bananas for lunch. And kept reading. I swept the kitchen floor and watered the poor plants, which were looking sad and dehydrated. I stripped the bed and put the sheets in the washing machine. And then read some more, on the deck, until the book was over, and the post-reading reverie set in, the kind where you’ve been immersed in someone else’s story for a few hours and come out not sure of what just happened. Reading slows me down, and I admit, I do not read nearly as much as I’d like.
Swimming in images from other worlds both familiar and foreign, around 3:00pm I drove out to Puffer’s for an actual swim. As I walked down towards the little path from the road to the beach, I spotted a woman with a girl about Aviva’s age and realized it was my dear friend Jessi. I called her name and she took off her shades and called mine back, and we gave each other the kind of hug that friends exchange, who don’t see each other often and yet always, always have each other’s back. Buoyed by seeing her and having not succumbed to a headache but rather getting myself out to the pond, I didn’t even take my time wading in under the hot afternoon sun. And I swam, on my back and on my side, across to the dam, where I rested for a moment, heart pounding against the rock, water rushing down below, some boys high up above poised to jump.
Slow day. Summer day. I want it like this always, but the only always is always right now, surrounded by sparrows hopping sweetly in search of crumbs, a perfect temperature accompanying the quieting sun, a woman sitting across from me I’ve come to rely upon, for her near-constant reminders, spoken and mostly just embodied, that everything gets done. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And we get to be alive; we get to read poems about race and art and violence and longing; we get to read novels we thought were memoirs about tiny islands and lives nothing like this one, with its lattes and laptops.
We get to. These may well be three of my favorite words, strung together like prayer beads or a circle of loosely clasped hands. When I sat down here not an hour ago, I said I didn’t know what I was doing. It was true. And you know what she said?
That’s good, not to know. It’s the only way sometimes, for anything to happen, for a piece of writing or an evening or a relationship to unfold. Inside the not knowing, so often trumpeted as some kind of new-age antidote to our time-obsessed culture, is where the most important knowing lives like a heart, or a seed. Not knowing what will happen next, not trying to plan, manipulate, and control, but to wake up and move through a day saying: I get to. Let’s go.
That last part I do know, as surely as I know my children’s faces and the curls on my head and the summer muscles of my forty-year-old body and how good the breeze feels on my bare skin, the pleasure of people-watching and the way books can transport us, and the urge to invite the whole world to our wedding because my heart feels that huge sometimes.
And, in fact, is.