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Look up, itís February. Lift your gaze from the salt-covered streets to the hazy blue sky. The white blankets 13th street as far as the eye can see; a Mediterranean mirage. Look up, itís February. The long January gone to history now, willing those last few days and hours away into a new beginning. Whatever February may offer, you lift your expectant eyes to it. Tempered by age and disappointment, you still hope, if hesitantly, for a fighting chance, the best possible outcome, or maybe just a step in the right direction. February is the short month, you remember.
Groundhog Day, it says on the calendar. How a fattened-up rodent can tell the future, itís doubtful. In a forest primeval, on a farm in a middle country flatland, perhaps. Perhaps the wind gusts down from the Yukon just as he pops his head out from beneath a frozen cornfield. He looks to the sky, turns to see a change on the horizon. Itís cold, even for such a furry, warm-blooded creature. No fanfare, no lights shining or crowds of people, no desire to share his silent wisdom. He turns in his tracks, goes back in to sleep.
Party on, Garth. Or Josefina, or whatever its name is. Woke up to yellow-curtained sunlight pouring into the living room, sleeping in the peaks and valleys of the hay-filled futon. Friday night into Saturday morning the bass shook all the walls of our living, girls screaming like twelve year olds, more bass courtesy of another bad neighbor. At least the morning arrived in silence; by then we were dazed and skinless, left to wander the sidewalks under cold February sky. We missed a birthday party but found other happinesses, here in the city that never lets us sleep.
I donít live in the past. I donít live in the future. I have difficulty living in the present, but try to do my best here, with what I have. I wake up and get out of bed
every single morning
. I make coffee, close the door behind me, and walk out into the world with some expectation of what will happen, yet open to the endless possibilities. I cope with whatever I encounter during the day. Then I find my way home, even in the dark, and always sleep in the same bed. So far so good, Iíd say.
Itís cold today, serious cold. Arctic windchills and runny noses, when buses are packed and bus drivers wonít stop to let you in or out to meet your connecting bus, so you stand out in the cold waiting for the next one, which you wait for what seems like eternity, and when it comes itís so packed the bus driver wonít let you in... Shops open late, but people still exist on the other end of e-mail, still send work your way, keeps you wishing you were still in bed at 1pm in the afternoon, on this frigging cold day.
Itís the kind of cold that makes you want to run. For warmth, for cover, for safety. But your lungs will burst and your frozen feet will shatter before you reach your destination. And you are an adult. Remembering those tropical rainy days returning home from school, running barefoot from the top of Heeia street, the rain so warm and clean, you ran, smiling to yourself or laughing with a sibling. And when you got to the driveway of your childhood home, you stood in the curb beside the house, watching the clear warm water washing over your child-sized feet.
Things are pretty good, Iíd have to say. There were some dark days at the end of January, but that feeling seemed to evaporate along with the monthís end, thankfully. Even with the frigid cold, so far February has been manageable, even enjoyable. Nothing notable to report, just a sense of relative contentment has slipped in. Itís a little uneasy, like standing on a beautiful green hill with a fabulous view of mountains and sea, and knowing that big grey cloud on the horizon is coming your way. Could be soon, could be a long ways off, but either way.
I love winter, the way I love the despair of love and a really good cry. So cold itís painful, spending days wishing it away, dreaming of the opposite. The beauty of it is that itís dependable, so far at least. Predictable: winter comes (usually), winter goes (hopefully). Someday the cycle may not be quite so reliable, but for now, I expect the sun to shine again, hot. So when I complain that I may have some frostbite in my toes and my skin has blistered even under longjohns and jeans, Iím really saying, ah, life is grand, isnít it?
I walked across today, in the cold. Iím not unhappy, but sometimes I have to wonder. I donít have envy so much asÖwhatís the word? Some things make me happy but I donít know if I could even identify them anymore. Easier to pinpoint causes for complaints. Like most people. Laughing is good. Funny things are funny. And not so funny things can be even funnier. There are many sides to any story, itís hard to get a true picture from only one pair of eyes. Trifocals donít help. I see our deaf-blind neighbor walking around outside, every morning.
A Saturday in February is a good day for a movie. Especially when the apartmentís undependable elevator deposits you on the correct floor in decent time. When you run across the street and find the bus, door closed, pulling away from the curb, stops to let you on. When you get to Union Square and buy your ticket, get in the elevator that goes down instead of up, then ascends in inches, and still you arrive in the proper room of thousands, find a seat behind no one, and settle in to watchÖwhatever it is youíve traveled there to see.
Donít worry, donít wonder, donít think.
Everyone has such low expectations these days. No one wants to hope for the best, expect a miracle. Donít expect anything and you wonít be disappointed. Iíve heard that one before.
The sun is up, both sides of my day. Things must be looking up. The bright side.
It may be nearly impossible at times, but what else is there, really? When you are nearing middle age and things are not nearly as important as they once were, except for those things that are so much
important, what really matters?
I thought we could go back, maybe for a day, maybe spend a night, just enough time. Hop an interisland flight, rent a car at Hilo airport, drive out to Laupahoehoe. See if that road still exists, up the hill to Grandmaís house, past the giant mango tree on the edge of the gulch, see if we could recognize the spot where her house stood, and all the other spots we occupied once. That is, if the road is passable, not covered with debris, broken tree branches, dead leaves, rotting fruit, ghosts of our childhood and the islandsí silent past.
And a bag of chips.
The air is icy, but no ice, yet. They say this afternoon weíll get snow, then sleet, then rain, then snow again. Undecided, I guess. I was too lazy to change my shoes and socks, so went to the bank 4 blocks away in my high water pants and pumps. It wasnít worth it. I made it to the bank, did my business, walked back, thatís it. No excitement, no adventures. Back at my desk, took out my sandwich (a few thin slices of turkey between 2 slices of dry, hearty wheat bread). Thatís it.
Valentineís Day. Also known as cold as hell and hailstorm day with black snow covering third avenue day, as I step into a freezing puddle of slush and ice water, luckily Iím wearing waterproof (are they?) shoes day, why does it always seem to be snowing, at least in my memory it is, when I meet her for lunch, in my memory we cross 51st street and I can see in my mindís eye the progression from just cleared sidewalks as lunch begins, to knee high drifts as we make our way back an hour later, separately, until next winterÖday.
The week flies by. Where have all the Mondays and Tuesdays, every disappeared day gone? What does it mean, where does it all go? Measured in the decades gone by since I last heard my motherís voice, in the years since my father carried his grandchildren, once so small, once so pale and innocent. In the time since we were all children, teenagers, overflowing with emotion. When it was all a matter of life and death, when this time since I have not seen you would have seemed like the end of the world, would literally, literally, have killed me.
Letís walk as far as we can wander, on the shores of familiar oceans, on the cliffs of never-seen lands. We would hike through the moors and sift through fog, trying to keep our socks dry and our feet warm against the dewy grass. We would climb stairways to castles and balance on mountaintops, the wind gusting, the scent of greenery filling us. We would walk. On roadsides and cobblestone, over verdant hills and black lava fields. We wouldnít stop until we were exhausted, our limbs heavy with fatigue and our dreams filled with every step weíd ever taken.
How those few days make a difference, we remark, as February passes the midway mark and snow packs into ice and refuses to melt in the below-freezing wind. Always the coldest, darkest month, perhaps even at the beginning of time and calendar creation, some lord or king or Pope decided,
what the f*ck, I maketh the calendar, I shall decreaseth the number of days in this f*cking cold month
. And the people applauded, and stamped their feet and blew on their hands to keep warm in their hovels beside the fire, while outside the oxen died in the fields.
Sundays never change. When I am an old, old woman with few thoughts remaining and only a flicker of memory, I wonder what recollection I will have of Sundays. The darkening afternoon, school homework not yet completed, family in the background, beer and pupus on the koa dining table. Not happy, but not unhappy. A bit apprehensive. Or a south-facing apartment in New York winter, silence and anger slowing the minutes and hours, winter hanging on like an ethereal nightmare, it presence waning and reappearing when least expected, staring into the darkness in the early hours, the week enters.
Itís some sort of holiday today, one of the dead presidentsí birthdays I think, one of the less significant holidays (celebrating that minor American convenience called Democracy), where the Office stays open and workerbees trundle off to work bundled in layers and layers of fabrics and felts, forget to check bus and train schedules, get to work too early or after half the day is gone, to defrost a moment before sitting before a blue and white screen for hours on end, until itís time to pack it in and finally head home, in the dark, in reverse, at last.
It requires a change in perception, a shift in attitude (latitude would be even better, but highly unlikely). If you can read the words
and give yourself a silent chuckle, perhaps you are on your way. If you can talk yourself into doing something good for yourself, something so difficult just to put that X on a dotted line, you have overcome an obstacle. If you can go from full of rage on a perfectly good morning to able to laugh at yourself half a day later, maybe, just maybe there is hope after all.
My Aunty Aki bought me my first bikini underwear, a tiny greenish nylon thing with birds. I was unexpectedly sleeping over at her apartment, she and Aunty Betty were taking me to the zoo. They packed up a picnic basket with little hamburgers and brownies, I never found out if someone made all that food from scratch. At some point in the day, Aunty Aki must have walked over to the Holiday Mart across the street and bought me that little panty. Only used to big little girl underpants, I kept trying to hike it up over my ample belly.
I must remember to tilt my head that way when photographed. It does look a little stupid and even worse, contrived, but it gets the subject noticed, and maybe such a pose, jutting my chin to one side, my eyes fixed on the camera with a small but natural smile touching my lips, would make me more attractive, mask my sliding chin and grey hair, stretch out one side of my face so the wrinkles fall to the dark side. Perhaps I shall wear the head tilt in photographs, and tilt my head ever further as the years go by.
On your dandelion memory, faces and places flutter in and out, carried away on the wind. In a green and grassy field with a sheltering tree, a small dark-haired child purses her lips toward a sparkly white flower. The breeze catches, delighted with itself, the day too. Distant voices, reassuring, like water, like sun, no matter where you stand you can hear a kind of laughter, a feeling, a sensation. No matter where you go, you close your eyes and see ocean. The child puffs her little lungs and runs up over the gently sloping hill, out of view.
This is why I like to go it alone. I like to take one subway then get out and walk. I do not like to take 3 trains and walk a longer distance underground than I would have above. I donít like following someone elseís fancy, not when it comes to crowded New York City subways. Next time Iíll be more assertive, make them do it my way. Itís direct, itís mostly predictable. It may not be the best way, but it is my way. Other than that, I got what I needed, and then some, and it was fine.
Busy signal. I lost my hat on the bus. Iíve never lost a hat on the bus before, or anywhere else, for that matter. Iím so angry and sad. And what about all those people on the bus, the woman sitting next to me who must have seen it fall from my lap? Why didnít she say anything? And why did I choose
hat when I left? Not an old worn out hat or hand me down, but my beautiful hand knit. Iím trying lost and found, but
. Itís New York city. Say goodbye, hat.
Happy Birthday. If you were alive, youíd be 79 today. That sounds old, sounds like an old woman that you never became. It sounds like a grandmother, a retiree, someone at home with children far away. You were never any of those things. I try to understand you now. Itís fleeting. And sometimes so revelatory, it feels like the sun is shining on me for the first time. Mostly, though, itís the living. Getting closer to your age, I see things through your eyes, no longer wondering what youíd think. You appear infrequently in my dreams now, but are everywhere.
I could fall easily. I could let myself slip into the warm blanketing darkness. I could sink slowly or quickly into despair. Youíd never know what happened Youíd never see it coming. I could cross over without a word. Go beyond my set boundaries and wander back into a world Iíve tried again and again to leave behind. But it beckons. Even you hear it. I struggle against February and as she finally, shiningly passes away, she clings to me, unable to release me. I fight with all my might and will and never will February just leave me alone.
They meant so much, gave me so much hope for so many years, all those words, all that music. Thereís still some comfort when I hear them, but mostly through jaded ears now. I try to pick a few songs, representations, to pass on. Compiled, they sound like dirges, like the playlist on my computer named ďMy eulogy.Ē Not what they are, but all of my youth, all of my hopes and dreams and fears and unshed tears. Itís a balmy night, for February. The sun warmed the room all day; open onto 12th street, everything flies out the window.
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