Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work by the end of June (at the latest: earlier is better!) via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).
DAY 2: Rachel Stilley • Debby Thompson • Andrew Bomback • David Woll • Sarah Viren • Sonya Huber • Nancy Geyer • Cicily Bennion • Linda Wiratan • John Proctor
The cup of coffee this morning tastes like milk chocolate, despite how strong it is. In the first sip I am transported to the cloudy mountaintops of Copán. Warm coffee-mountain-love fills my belly. My hands, or the hands of dear friends, may have graced these beans years ago, and my heart hasn’t forgotten that place. I sit back, surprised at such a full experience with just one sip of coffee, especially since I don’t have many thoughts on Honduras. I feel drunk with memories- what is in this stuff? Maybe the hands of the people who harvest these beans are holy, the dirt christening their hands and feet as they trudge up the steep slopes, a pilgrimage ending in my cup this morning.
SNAP. The leash clipped to my attention had reached maximum length, and I, having floated a considerable distance off in my mind, reestablished in my body: sitting at a table under the bushy mesquite tree. It took awhile. Exhaustion set in slowly, how I want sinking into a cloud to feel when I fantasize about them from the airplane window. I get heavy and try to sit up straight, but give up after a few attempts. I slog, through the heat and back to bed. I can’t remember if I slept.
Pink glow rests on my skin. This is all the sunny, summer sun can do to reach me in my den. For a moment I watch the light suspiciously, holding my breath, waiting for it to immerse me in heat. It doesn’t come, phewww. This place transforms everything into lizards and thorny plants, soaring birds and buzzing cicadas. I am a lizard, hiding as far into the ground as I can. I am a thorny plant, bristling at the desert air and greedily sucking up water. Yesterday, I was a buzzing cicada, in contract with the sun to labor over the preservation of liveliness under its own sweltering gaze.
Semi-reluctantly, I crawled out of my shelter for food and company. My friend picked me up in their car—the A/C was out, and our empty bellies could barely maintain our energy to hold conversation. As we drew closer to our destination, my friend grew quiet. They had to focus all their energy on getting us there, they said, or they’d pass out. I offered to slap them, and then slapped myself a few times in the face to prove my dedication.
Luckily, we cruised safely into the parking lot, and stumbled into the cool climate of the restaurant. I bee lined it to the water dispenser, while my companion ordered a bagel for themselves and a smoothie for me. We collapsed in our chairs, and after a few glasses of water, conversation began to pick up again. I told a few stories about things that had happened in my life since we had last seen each other: my childhood pet passed away, my brother graduated, I am taking a summer class on Creative Writing. They mention that the word “they” is challenging for people to accept, especially as a pronoun. My curiosity is spiked. Our discussion deepens into topics of gender expression, our (lack of) responsibility as queer people to provide validation of our identity to people who don’t understand, and the unfairness in expecting people with no perspective or exposure to be open and accepting. This, we both argue to an unknown challenger, is basic human learning. One cannot navigate a space they have no conscious or subconscious experience with: the pattern recognition isn’t there. This person has taken many education classes, and I relish being the beneficiary of their knowledge.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how this would go. I had dated my breakfast benefactor for two years, and we had a sometimes contentious parting of ways. It was difficult because we both love each other deeply. It’s really hard to hurt and not be with someone you’ve shared so much with. And it's hard to continue sharing space, especially with unresolved or non-communicated feelings. Today was good, though, and the emotions were confined to harder issues we were dealing with than us. Writing that, seeing it and really believing it, feels so good. Even when we were together, so much of our sharing was completely wrapped in emotional reaction. It is amazing to see them and commune with them in such a balanced way.
They brought me home, after a leisurely brunch, and we laid down on the floor, absorbing the chilled air after having soaked in the heat the whole way home. I asked them if it was difficult to be around me this time. I don’t like to assume, and sometimes they get this really far away look in their eyes after something is said. They seemed genuine in their assertion that they enjoyed our exchange. I feel happy and full as I hug them goodbye and push the heavy wooden door against the heat once more.
Home alone. Full on Risky Business, minus the underwear. I usually live with two people, but one has moved out and another is on a meditation retreat (cool, right?). Dishes have never stayed so long in the sink, I thought today. I wandered from the bathroom through the living room and dining room wet and nubile. I did laundry last night at midnight. How inconsiderate, I chuckle to myself. But I do love when there’s other people in the house- it’s so big without other bodies shifting around, filling the home with gentle sounds. I may not be here as much if it weren’t my sanctuary, from the heat but also from the world. Here I recharge, shift into a fairylike form of myself, and get things done. Or not. It’s my time to consider myself, and it is important. Especially today, with all this reflecting to do.
Solstice! I completely forgot today is the Summer Solstice. Of course, once I found out, I had to read some blurbs on the solstice: what it is, its significance, some celebration practices. As the world’s oldest god, the sun’s longest day has been celebrated for...ever? Especially places farther from the hemisphere. This day is a celebration of light, warmth, life, fertility, balance, and probably more. I don’t know, I didn’t read that much. One of the articles, from Mystic Mamma, said that today is a day to negotiate the feminine and masculine values in our lives. Another explained Wiccan traditions on solstice, and yet another explained that this day also marks the beginning of the Cancer season. I will have to digest this information, and get back to you with my reviews.
I just started to narrate my day. Simply. I stepped outside into the warm, warm air. I glared back at the glaring light reflecting at me from the concrete walls and wooden barn. It was at this moment that I softened my gaze, and the picture in front of my softened too. My whole body relaxed in fact. I let my attention off leash, enjoying the color of the trees and the blueness of the garage door. It is a wooden door, long ago painted a nondescript blue paint that was aging nicely. It reminds me of a door on my grandmother’s ranch, which is also wooden and colored a peeling light greenish turquoise. I took a picture in front of that door when I was eighteen, and my mother had it printed up and framed. The door that I’m looking at has a sticker on the glass window that reads Ceramics- The Most Interesting HOBBY!. I look up at the dove in the nest above the door. She blinks at me with one golden orange eye. Wandering back down to the ground, my gaze falls on the garden bed, finally resting in the shade. I want to replant the succulents and spider plants in my care, maybe I will have time this evening before I make a solstice fire. I get back up and go inside- it would be easier to celebrate the sun and light if it weren’t so hot out.
WATER. My arms flail around in search of a water glass, and I anxiously yank the spout open on the water jug to fill my cup. It doesn’t have the chance to overflow before I start guzzling it down, and I fill a half-full glass with ice. One of the cubes shatters on the floor, leaving little drops of ice cold water on my foot and the floor. I snap down, clutch the fallen ice in my fingers, and snap back up, dropping it into the glass. I slug down the rest of the ice water and fill the glass up again. I’ve plopped down on the floor to write awhile, and I’m positioned awkwardly slumped against the couch and across the floor, so I can charge my computer. My butt is becoming numb.
Now I will go out and steep in the last moments of the longest day of the year. I will find balance and calm in the pools in the mountains. I will hold my dearest close and burn a fire in reverence for all the little moments that have made this day, the balance that fuses them together, and the eternity of survival. I may not remember this day, but I am grateful that it has come and gone.
Me siento tan viejo was yesterday’s phrase in my page-a-day Living Language Spanish calendar. I feel so old. I say the Spanish phrase out loud as I let the dogs out and start the coffee to the sounds of crying children in the background. Not mine: NPR is reporting on the refugee children separated from their parents at the Texas border.
While Olive and Tiger chomp their kibble I tear off yesterday’s phrase and read today’s: ¡No digas eso! An NPR commentator explains how Trump has signed an Executive Order that will keep refugee families together—but not really.
The dogs run to the window to prevent the invasion of a dog-and-walker passing by. The border collie barks obsessively. The husky howls. Like they’re badass. Like if it weren’t for their constant monitoring, our house would be overrun with neighboring dogs and their walkers. Olive barks a couple more residual barks.
I’m writing a book about dogs, but I have no control over my own. Just one of my little hypocrisies.
In the car I do my Pimsleur. Voy al gimnasio.
At my old ladies’ gym, they’re talking about the children being separated from their parents. One woman repeats the story I also heard on NPR earlier, about the irreparable psychological damage it’s doing to the children. Another repeats the story about how they’ve lost track of which kids go to which parents, so they may never be reunited. We usually don’t talk politics here, but even the Republican women are outraged. “I don’t care what the law says,” says one staunch conservative church lady. “You take my children and I’ll kill you.”
Soon they switch to discussing cataract surgery. How, during the procedure, you go temporarily blind.
I try to compete with the woman on the video overhead. She may be 30 years younger, but I’m not going to let her do more spider planks than me. But when I do the frog to stretch I notice that even my ankles have wrinkles. When did that happen? Me siento tan viejo…Getting dressed, I wonder if the kids will be reunited with the parents. Those crying eight-month-old babies. How did we become a country that does this? How do ankles even wrinkle, anyway? I wonder if I should relent and dye my hair after all. I wanted to gray gracefully, but the white hair is all on my right side. Not Susan Sontag but Cruella deVille. Can I still wear cut-off shorts with gray (white) hair? What is 55 these days, anyway? How old is 55 when you don’t have kids, much less grandkids? Can I still wear these goofy sneakers that make me happy, or am I just becoming a caricature now?
I drop off my car for windshield repair. At the Starbucks across the street, I write three pages that I can live with on the dog book. For me, a good day. I write slow. Demasiado despacio. I suddenly realize there was another layer in a student’s essay that I’d missed—the way he’s questioning the truth even as he’s living it. But is this layer too subtle? After all, I’d missed it when I read the essay weeks ago. Maybe this questioning, this unreliability of even a reliable narrator, needs to come to the fore more. I email him about that. I’m excited by this new layer, but I also hate when my students’ writing is better than mine.
The new windshield looks good. They cleaned all the windows for good measure. No more dog nose smudges. I’m admiring the windows’ transparency when a guy behind me honks and gives me the finger for not turning left on a yellow-turning-red. Vamos a la playa, I say along with Pimsleur. Let’s go to the beach.
In the evening I read in bed as the storm rolls in. The scary new frontiers of dog breeding. Gene manipulation and cloning. I feel so old. Olive and Tiger jump in bed with me, press their bodies against mine. They’re shaking, scared of the thunder. So badass, they are.
The dogs won’t go outside in the rain, so no point in feeding them dinner until the storm passes. I do another a couple Babel lessons. Food words. No como carne. Yo soy vegetariana. I store these phrases away for future use.
When I do go to feed the dogs I see that one of them has peed in the living rooM. Fear peeing. Maybe I should have forced them out in the rain. I briefly contemplate doggie diapers, which pet stores now sell, so wrong for so many reasons, but, at this moment, so tempting.
I’m vegetarian but I feed my dogs meat. Just another little hypocrisy. While they chomp their kibble I peek at tomorrow’s phrase. Todavia eres una mujer joven. You’re still a young woman. Ha!
On the radio they’re saying that Melania went to visit the children detained at the border wearing a jacket that said I-don’t-care-something-something.
I started learning Spanish when Trump was elected. All that talk of the border wall. It was no longer tenable to be monolingual. One hypocrisy too many. Now when I hear Spanish speakers at the store or coffee shop, I lean in, listen, pick out what words I can. They’re not so alien anymore.
It’s hard, though, to learn a new language in your fifties.
I’m already feeling those spider planks in my abs.
I let go of today’s page, and the calendar flits back to ¡No digas eso! for a few more hours.
Debby Thompson teaches writing and criticism at Colorado State University.
I remembered this project on the drive to my son’s daycare. I’ve gone back and forth on whether to include that detail, given how much it parallels Nicholson Baker’s account of April 29, 1994 with its sudden recollection of an assignment and the accompanying fear that all the details preceding this reminder would be lost or inaccurately retold. Plus, a part of me worries that I deliberately “forgot” and then equally deliberately “remembered” the project to be more like Nicholson Baker, whom I’ve idolized since my early 20s, and whose books I’ve gone back to in my 30s and 40s. When my daughter, Juno, was an infant, I re-read Room Temperature and wondered how in the world I’d read this book a decade earlier as a bachelor. The thrill of re-reading Room Temperature now as a parent, whose own child had nostrils shaped like Cheerios, was that I felt like Baker and I were in the same club. And so, I suppose, I might have subconsciously enjoyed the panicky feeling of remembering that I’d vowed to write down the events of June 21, 2018 more than two hours into my day because that minor anxiety, in some way, aligned me with Nicholson Baker again.
Mateo, my 3-year-old, called out music requests from his car seat. We’d just dropped Juno off at her bus stop and now, alone, he was emboldened to ask for his desired songs. When she was in the car, he’d only want “Juno’s playlist,” a Spotify collection of 30-plus songs that Juno had assembled with my help. Her choices were mostly strong: beside the usual 6-year-old fare of popular hits from the Sing and Despicable Me movie soundtracks, she had asked for songs from Van Halen, Arcade Fire, Frank Ocean, Taylor Swift, and the Silver Jews. Her first grade friends didn’t know any of these songs, I surmised, unless they had fathers with identical music tastes as mine. Today was her last day of school. Less than two years ago, she’d been afraid to board the bus to kindergarten, and now she marched triumphantly up the bus’s stairs and high-fived its driver, Mr. Sonny. “I’m not going to see you again until you’re in second grade,” I’d said to her before she boarded the bus, our inside joke about how fast school designations can change. She’d left the house a first grader and would come home a second grader.
“Play ‘Du Toto,’” Mateo said. “I want ‘Du Toto.’” I advanced through the songs on his Spotify playlist until finding Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” Mateo’s name for the song sprang from its bass line, which he sang along to from his car seat. Most kids, if they didn’t know the name for this song, would have landed on a name based on its Bruno Mars lyrics. Juno, for example, sometimes referred to it as “Don’t believe me just watch.” Mateo’s identification with its bass line, rather than its lyrics, reflected (I hoped) the burgeoning musician inside him. “Du,” he now sang, “Du Toto, Du Toto. Du. Du Toto Du Toto.”
I sang along, truly enamored by the tune after weeks of listening to it whenever we were in the car. There’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome with any song, I think, but particularly a song that you associate with your children: at some point during the fiftieth or hundredth listen, the song takes on new meaning and complexity. A background vocal, a guitar riff, a one-second pause – some feature emerges that marks this song as genius, purely because you’ve listened to it so many times, under so many different circumstances, amidst cheers and crying and even the occasional silence, and now you feel like you know every last detail of the song just like you know every last detail of your child. Months earlier I’d had the same experience with Katy Perry’s “Roar,” proclaiming it (in my own head, I admit, never out loud to any other adult) the most underrated pop song of the last decade. As we pulled into the day care, I reveled in the secret language Mateo and I shared. Other than me and Juno, no one else in the world – not his mother, not his daycare teacher, not even, I’d guess, Mark Ronson himself – would be able to hear him ask for “Du Toto” and immediately know he wanted “Uptown Funk.”
After work, when I picked Mateo up, his daycare teacher said, almost sheepishly, that she had some forms for me. I knew what this meant. Forms was shorthand for incident reports, the triplicate sheets that daycare teachers were required to fill out when a child was injured in any way. “Uh oh,” I said. Then, with a whisper, I asked, “Was he the biter or the bitee?” He hadn’t bit anyone in weeks, the result, I hoped, of concentrated efforts by my wife and me to help him modulate his anger. Getting an incident report now felt, in some ways, like receiving a failing grade on a surprise quiz.
“No biting this time,” his teacher said. “He tried to grab a toy from one of his friends, and the friend scratched him behind his ear.”
“Oh,” I said. “And he didn’t do anything back?”
“He told us,” the teacher said. “The scratch is still there.”
“I guess that’s good,” I said, not to the teacher but more to myself. “It’s good he didn’t hit back in any way.”
At that point, Mateo ran over to me and hugged my leg. “Jacob scratched me,” he said excitedly, pulling back his ear lobe to show me his battle wounds. His teacher, as per protocol, had deliberately omitted the other combatant’s name, but Mateo was not obliged to respect such confidentiality rules.
I dropped to my knees. “Ouch,” I said. “That must have hurt. You must have felt sad that Jacob did that. And I bet Jacob felt sad that he did that, too.” Mateo nodded and put on a sad face that had to be deliberate, given how happily he’d just relayed the incident with Jacob. I knew his teacher was listening to me. In a way, I was showing off some of the verbiage I’d learned from parenting books I’d read over the last few months. Mateo was a far bigger parenting challenge than Juno had ever been. Some of this my wife and I chalked up to his just “being a boy,” aware of how 1950s that kind of response sounded. But we also knew he had some deep-seated issues with his emotional control, and therefore we’d been poring over parenting books trying to find some way to help him. This forced expression of sadness on his face, just like his finding a teacher to defuse a fight, should be considered a success.
“There’s also another incident form,” his teacher said now, handing me a second piece of paper. “Miss Veronica noticed a bruise on his shoulder and wanted to document it,” his teacher said, referring to her aide. I noticed a large black-and-blue mark on Mateo’s shoulder when applying sunscreen to his back, Miss Veronica had written. When I asked Mateo where he got the bruise, he said “home.”
“Oh,” I said now to his teacher. “Oh. I haven’t seen that bruise.”
On the car ride home, listening to “Du Toto,” I chewed over the incident reports. Why wasn’t I happier about the scratching incident and Mateo’s controlled response? He’d done exactly what the books had promised he could do if he worked on anger management and emotion modulation. But had we re-programmed something natural out of him in the process? I looked at his reflection in the rear view mirror. He was tired after a long day of school, but he wasn’t enjoying “Du Toto” as much as he usually did. In fact, he hadn’t even asked for the song when we got into the car. I’d just reflexively started playing it once I started the car. I tried to sing along, extra loud, to snap Mateo out of whatever funk he’d fallen into at the end of his day. “Du!” I sang loudly. “Du Toto! Du Toto!”
“Stop it, Daddy,” he whined from his seat. When I kept on singing, just as loudly, he screamed the request.
“Okay,” I said, turning off the car stereo. “We’ll drive home in silence.”
And what about that second incident report, with its insinuation of child abuse? If this were the first time we’d received such a document, I might have been shocked, but this was par for the course for his daycare. When Juno had attended, years earlier, she’d shown up one day with a large welt on her forehead. My wife explained to her teacher, at drop off, that Juno had fallen off our back deck’s stairway while trying to help water plants. That evening, an incident report awaited us with the phrase, Mom claims that Juno fell down the stairs. The language felt so inflammatory that we called the daycare director that night for an explanation. The reports have continued, about every two or three months, documenting bruises and cuts and scratches that the teachers could not explain without some attribution to the home environment. I suppose I should be grateful for such diligence on their part, even if it comes at the expense of feeling exposed as a child abuser. Mateo had about six or seven black and blue marks on his body, most on his legs, and the sources ranged from his own accidental falls to Juno’s deliberately hard kicks to the shins.
“We’re almost home,” I said to Mateo. “Let’s put ‘Du Toto’ back on, okay?”
“Okay,” he said.
I blasted “Uptown Funk” and sang along with him to the final chorus. “Uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up!” we yelled. And then, because it was a beautiful day, I turned off the air conditioner, rolled the windows down, and opened up the sunroof, too, so that Mateo couldn’t make out what I was singing. While he chirped away from his car seat, from my own seat I shifted into the lyrics that I suspected Juno sang whenever she allowed him to play the song in the car. “Uptown fuck you up, uptown fuck you up!” I sang. “Uptown fuck you up, uptown fuck you up!” Another inside joke – maybe with Juno, maybe with myself. Who cared? As I’d just told Mateo, we were almost home.
Andrew Bomback is a physician and writer. His book, Doctor, will be published in September by Bloomsbury/Object Lessons.
The groundhog won another round. My fat, furry, fearless foe frustrates all manner of fence and fortification fashioned to fend off his foraging and has feasted for a fortnight on the foliage in my floral fortress. I found him again today, in flagrante delicto, with a fresh frond of collard hanging from his mouth. I don’t know how he got past the metal post fence that we had professionally installed, with its three-foot tall mesh lining, also buried under the surface to prevent burrowing. I don’t know how he got past the hundred dollars’ worth of five-foot tall chicken wire I wrapped around all of that I don’t know why he is not deterred by the talcum powder, pepper spray, fox urine or other noxious material spread around the perimeter of the raised beds. He can barely stand to sit out on our patio. I don’t need the produce. Here in the Westchester suburbs, you can’t, as the saying (now) goes, swing a dead woodchuck without hitting a Farmer’s Market. The garden is just a hobby; something to relax me from the stress of the office. Now that I am retired, I need something to relax me from the stress of the garden. Maybe I’ll take up golf.
The puddles took on a constellation of shapes: the great round deep ones, like a bowl of soup for the gods, the ones running long and thin like a river to Lilliputians, the dirty ones mixing gravel with rainwater, and cleanest pools that reflect the already lightening sky, how the sun, still not yet visible, is nonetheless making its presence known, ticking off the minutes until the rest of this world we share wakes up, too, and come out into the day to see the puddles left to us by last night’s rainfall.
Only one of us recognizes their import at first. She points to the first one we see and says “agua,” because, yes, puddles are water, but also because she doesn’t yet know how to say puddle, and so I clarify. “Charco.” She repeats, “arco,” but when we move on to the next one, in a crack of sidewalk leading up to our neighbor’s Craftsman bungalow, where inside the television flashes scenes from a morning show, two bodies on a stage pointing to something I can’t make out between the wooden blind slits, she again says, “agua,” and this time I acquiesce.
We find puddles shaped like doughnuts and puddles that look like glass suns, their rays the tire tracks that pulled their puddlesness out onto the rest of the road, now mostly dry. We see puddles that remind us of deer tracks, tiny pockmarks in the asphalt, and then we see a real deer, standing in the bushes, watching us watch her, and when she runs into the forest-cover, the baby among us calls after her—“bye bye.”
My favorites are the puddles that form on steps, the way each step holds its puddle differently, and in their taxonomy we see the years of feet holding up bodies, their shuffling and stomping and maybe sometimes tripping, and the weather, too, the puddles from days and years before that have also wormed their history into concrete, bent—like the rest of us—on being remembered in some small way, at least on some days.
Her favorites are the ones that look best for jumping because two days ago after the rain ended we found in the back alleyway behind neighbors’ garden plots and shuttered garages a band of puddles that we let her wade into, squat down in, splash her hands in, and then jump—or not quite jump, she’s a toddler, after all, and doesn’t know how to jump, but she got as close as she could, likely remembering the show her older sister watches about that pig family living on the top of a hill in a land filled with hills topped by houses, and how, whenever they can, but especially after a rain, the pigs jump in the puddles and laugh and laugh until they fall over on their sides from the joy of being alive.
In Spanish, we say “chapotear,” a verb English can’t replicate. It means to jump about in water or mud. It implies a sort of recklessness or childishness in the face of a world filled with mud puddles. It is a word I try to teach her as we approach the latest one, an overwhelming pool of water at the bottom of a hill that reminds me of loss, but the sounds molder in her mouth when she tries to mimic me, leaving us only with the resilient and appropriate “tar.” Because after we jumped in puddles up to our knees, after the puddles’ splashes rain upward onto us, after we too resemble a puddle in our temporary muddy wetness, after we shake out the word chapotear as hard as we can, and the “cha” the “poe” fall off in our exuberance, we are left with only “tar,” what she says now when we stop before that largest of puddles, that clearest reminder that the rain when it falls is not a storm of individual rain drops, but an atomized whole that will soon be whole again, if not today, then hopefully tomorrow.
Sarah Viren is the author of Mine, which won the River Teeth Book Prize and was published in March. She teaches at Arizona State University, but spends her summers (and this July 21) in Iowa City.
On the Verge
My body is an accident, as is yours. Mine has all kinds of knots and weirdnesses. Some of them have grown and will have to come out. My son’s body is already a dear scrapbook of his own accidents. Because he’s had multiple unlucky concussions I tell him after breakfast today that we are going to my chiropractor’s office to get lasers shot into his head. It’s woo-woo but also why not. As I was holding my car keys to leave for the chiropractor with him, I was chewing a nut bar and my left jaw joint slipped slightly out of its socket and back in, which hurt.
My son lays down on a bench and the chiropractor gives him green sunglasses and aims red lasers at his skull for a few minutes. He’s had a hard few years but he’s amazing. I am a huge fan of that fourteen-year-old boy. Like me, he is obsessed with scars and time, the way time and place intersect. While he's getting zapped, my wonderful chiropractor reaches for my jaw and pulls it back into place.
(This free-floating day brought to you by the life of a tenured academic in June, where I have time to take care of everything I’ve been meaning to do all year. This free-floating Thursday means I only had a few hours of work to do in the morning. This series of health issues is completely brought to you by my husband’s health insurance, which is still decent because he’s a high school teacher and in a union. This day brought to you by the letter W, which stands for the workers of the world.)
Give me an hour and I’ll make a religion of anything.
I drop my boy back home and call my house rep to say not to vote for either of the crappy Republican immigration bills. I head to my friend Elizabeth’s house. Today is a waiting day for her too: she has to get a heart catheterization next Tuesday to see what’s up with her heart. We both have autoimmune stuff. We lounge on her new soft pewter-colored couch, talking about the fact that the stabbing pain she’s been having in her back might have been a series of heart attacks—because of the women’s healthcare thing, no one knows or pays attention to what is going on inside the bodies of women.
We go to lunch and sit outside at a Venezuelan restaurant, and the green sauce on these stuffed corn cakes, arepas, is so fresh and lively and subtle and substantial that I buy a half pint of it for $7.25. We go back to her couch and hang out and talk about our history of love and how everyone has to make some bad choices.
Prometheus gave fire to humanity, and Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock. The eagle would eat his liver each day, and then it would grow back, and the eagle would return to eat it again. The gods were really into repetition. Prometheus is said to embody the idea of over-reaching or unintended consequences. Heracles used an arrow to kill the eagle that was eating the liver of Prometheus.
Driving home, I listen to a CD of a Buddhist talk, about how we want to get to the point that every difficult thing in the world is our teacher. I park the van and run into my husband, who is heading out the door to go get a root canal. I tell him I will go to the grocery store. He tells me there are kids in the basement with Ivan and to watch the dog to make sure she doesn’t bite Ryan, a smiley kid who we call “Dog-Bite Ryan” to distinguish him from the other Ryan. Our dog is a rescue with issues. The boys clomp up the stairs and Ronnie and Ryan leave. I lean against the sink, chatting with my son, asking him whether that was the Ronnie who he was in a fight with in third and then seventh grade, and he says yeah, but in eighth grade everyone came together again like a big family. All I really ever wanted for my son was that he would be a sentimental and nostalgic boy, the kind of boy who is okay with being overcome by his feelings. I look down at the colander I am washing in the sink and I smile. In truth I want a lot more for him; I want everything. Then I have to walk myself back and say that he won’t get everything, that I have to be more okay with him not getting everything.
The liver is found only in vertebrates. It has four lobes and it does about 500 different jobs in the body as the largest gland and heaviest organ. The liver is the only organ that can regrow itself from as little as 25 percent of its original mass. This begs the question of how the Greeks knew a liver could do that.
At the grocery store I stand in front of the display of peaches and figure I should get “eastern peaches” because they’re more local, but though they’re happily orange they’re hard as rocks. I reach for them and say to a man with gray hair standing next to me, “They’re still so hard, aren’t they?” He looks at me and says, “My wife says that everything tastes different now.” He shakes his head, still looking at me, and I feel like we’ve had a moment of deep contact. I pull away, smiling but also embarrassed, and head over to the apples. I look at the brands—Red Delicious is the most horrible, which seems like some kind of life lesson—and see that there’s a brand of apple called “Sonya,” which is my name and which I’ve never seen before, so I buy four. They are sort of elongated like eggs. After getting all my stuff I maneuver my cart toward the register and am trying to cross a busy area clogged with carts when I see an older white woman cut in front of a younger African-American woman who is standing in line with her son. I call out to the older woman that she’s cut in front of the younger woman, and there’s a kind of awkward moment where the older woman looks up with confusion and apologizes and says that the younger woman can go ahead, but then the older woman is not actually moving her cart so the younger woman can’t get by, and there’s a kind of “no you go, no you go” standoff, and then the younger woman refuses and ends the situation. I pull my cart through the place where this happened and I glance at the African-American woman, but she looks ahead with defeat like I’m not there. Something about her posture conveys the exhaustion at regularly not being seen, and she seemed like she was too much in her end-of-day resignation and feelings to glance at me, a white woman as always wanting cookies and rewards for the smallest of interventions.
This living inside an essay is exhausting. Is living inside an essay as it’s happening changing the experience of the day? Is this what I am supposed to do every day, this literary mindfulness? Or is it that I am always on the verge of tears anyway these days? I could cry at any moment, but I’m not unhappy.
Wikipedia tells me that the Persian, Urdu, and Hindi languages all use the word for liver (jigar) to connote courage, strong feelings, or one’s best. In Zulu, the word for liver—isibindi—means courage.
I load up my stuff and head to Subway to get my son a sandwich for dinner, and I am proud of myself that I cut behind a strip mall to get there—new shortcut! I order, and the guy behind the counter is so friendly as always, tells me the foot-long is on sale, and puts generous lettuce and black olives on the cold cuts. He rings me up and we are both smiling at a strong Irish accent from another regular customer behind me. I stare at his tip jar and look in my wallet: no cash. I take the sandwich from him and feel a kind of searing poignancy, how nice this guy is, how shitty that I don’t have a dollar to give him, that he’s nice not in a customer-service jazzy-fake way or in a “look how nice I am” way but just regular-human nice.
I walk in the door with my bags and my son doesn’t want the sandwich right now anyway and can I take him to Other-Ryan’s house because they’re going to a party at Julie’s? We drive to Other-Ryan’s. I get home and spend a golden-green hour pulling weeds, sweeping up dried leaves and sticks, watering the zinnias, talking to the sunflowers, tying up the blueberry bush which is so full with unripe berries that it’s partially fallen over. As I clean up my driveway (it’s got weeds growing in all of the cracks and it’s a nightmare I am only tackling because my in-laws are coming next week) I thinking about my massive and irrational anger toward my next-door neighbor, who is a psychic and reiki practitioner who voted for Trump, which honestly does not seem like the greatest advertisement for one’s psychic abilities. She voted for Bernie in the primary and then was too cool or uninformed to vote for Hillary. It’s been a year and a half and I have not forgiven her at all. I kind of blame the whole election on her. When I saw her after the election I said hello to her in a clipped voice and then slammed the door so hard I almost broke the window. I mention this because I feel like you should know how un-evolved I am, despite my interests in Buddhism.
I spend the evening on the couch, texting with my friend Elizabeth, watching season 2 of The Americans about Russian spies (which I realize is cathartic because the real antagonist is Ronald Reagan and I get to root against capitalism while also indulging in 1980s capitalist-created nostalgia, but really I think the attraction is Matthew Rhys’s sad eyes, and let’s not talk about my bad choices in men driven by my attraction to sad eyes). My joints hurt because I pulled too many weeds. I read a book about the origin of colors and pigments and marvel at how many dyes were made by letting leaves and metals sit for a month in vats of urine. The other day my husband and I were just talking about agriculture, about how someone had to find grain and dry it and say, “I wonder if you would grind this up and throw in an egg and some rotten stuff and let it sit and then cook it what would happen?” And I said, “They had a lot of time to work with.” And the history of humanity for better or worse has been: I wonder what happens if I put this random collection of things together.
Sonya Huber is the author of five books, most recently Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. She teaches at Fairfield University. www.sonyahuber.com
This morning I awoke to planes taking off from National Airport. It was 6:15. I don’t know if this is an especially busy time at the airport or the planes are simply more audible at this otherwise quiet hour. They begin their steep ascent over the Potomac River, one after another, and continue their climb over Southwest Waterfront and Yards Park, not far from our section of Capitol Hill.
Even now, almost seven years after the fact, I’m reminded of how, in the days surrounding my father’s death, the planes seemed to be taking him away.
I made a quick check of the news. The weather headline sounded metaphorically ominous: “The year’s longest day is a fine one, but unsettled weather follows.”
After breakfast, I walked with my husband to Capitol South metro station—I’ve never been able to get out of bed only to sit right down at my desk. We parted ways at the escalator and he disappeared into the underground. I took a roundabout route home, past the power plant that serves the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court (supplying not electricity, I would learn later, but steam and chilled water). I wanted to do a visual fact check of its twin smokestacks. Built of blond-colored brick, they are dormant, or at least were this morning. Towering and smoke-free, they reached toward the gray underbellies of white clouds.
At Garfield Park I discovered that a tree had been cleaved in two, a victim of last night’s storm. I went to inspect it, as did several others, and found evidence of internal decay.
The morning was divided between editorial work and studying for a class on Chekhov’s short stories. In addition to critical reading, we are tasked with writing our own, Chekhov-inspired, story. My first attempt at fiction. The plan is to expand upon and fictionalize an encounter I had years ago with a liquor store clerk who flagged me down as I was walking by his store. His boss—the store’s owner—had died over the weekend and the clerk was grief-stricken. I didn’t know his boss, nor did I know the clerk’s name, though I was, for a while, a customer. It was an awkward moment of forced intimacy that has haunted me ever since.
For lunch I sliced green olives and arranged them on a piece of bread coated with cream cheese. After eating, I picked up where I had left off in the morning, then began selecting images for an art feature, one of my more enjoyable duties as a journal editor.
At 5:00, feeling the need to get out in the world, I walked three blocks to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. I wanted to drink it there, and had brought a book along, but the upstairs seating area was closed—permanently, according to the cashier. The reason was vandalism. Supplies had been pilfered more than once (the storage door kicked in), legs of chairs and tables repeatedly broken. This area is not a room, exactly; it’s more like an L-shaped balcony that looks down onto the first floor. Dingy, with an oppressively low ceiling (you had to watch your head). It’s not surprising that ugly environs can beget ugly behavior. Still, I liked to sit up there and look out the window at a bustling 8th Street. Not just bustling but frequently unruly. This, in a normally placid and too-comfortable neighborhood.
Back home, with coffee, I caught up on the day’s events. Occasionally I went to the window facing the backyards belonging to our tight cluster of row houses. There was little movement outside. The wide-open magnolia blossoms on our neighbors’ tree didn’t stir, nor did the fringe on our yellow-and-white-striped patio umbrella.
We skipped a sit-down dinner because my husband needed to practice guitar. At 7:45, he & guitar went out the door, headed for a jam session. Actually, the occasion was an everyone-is-welcome gathering that falls on the 21st of every month, no matter what day of the week it is, held at the alleyway abode of a filmmaker whose house number is 21. I wanted to go, but I also wanted to work on my short story because a draft is due on Tuesday and it’s been slow-going. But later I second-guessed my decision. As I wrote through the evening, I felt as I often do when writing and home alone—that life was happening elsewhere.
Nancy Geyer is an essayist and an editor. She lives in Washington, D.C.
On the morning of June 21, 2018, I pulled a nectarine out of the fridge. My husband Nathan and I had just returned from a walk in the park and we were covered in sweat. The walk was meant to be leisurely, but we’d been slow to get out the door, so by the time we began our climb up the hill back to our apartment, it was 9am and the sun was beginning its work of warming the Salt Lake Valley. It had a big day ahead of it––the weather report said it was supposed to get up to ninety. But the nectarine in my palm was cold, and its reddish skin had rays of yellow and freckles of orange and was beginning to wrinkle. I took a bite and its sugary, cool flesh filled my mouth, and juice ran down my arm. As a child, this was my favorite fruit. At the grocery store, my mom would leave me to pick out a few nectarines while she gathered all the produce for the week. I took my time, examining each one carefully so that I could find two or three that were just right: soft but not too soft, dark but not too dark. Back at the house, my mom had me stand over the sink while I ate, and splashes of yellow collected in the white basin. I remembered all of this while I ate my nectarine on June 21st.
The rest of the day was not nearly as sensual or nostalgic. I spent an hour at the pool with a friend and went to lunch with some old coworkers. Nathan left in the afternoon for work. Just a few weeks ago, he graduated and now he spends his mornings filling out job applications and his afternoons working as a part-time bus driver. I am on summer break between my first and second years of grad school, so while he is gone, I putter around the apartment, watch TV, and read and write.
Nathan finished work at 8pm when the sun was just beginning to get low in the sky. He called me from the car on his way home, upset because he’d accidentally hit a bird––it was the biggest thing he’d ever killed, he said. His voice shook and he asked if I’d ever killed anything like that. Yes, I said. I ran over a dog once. This was meant to comfort him, but instead it felt as if I'd one upped him. After dinner, we walked a half hour to the movie theatre downtown where they show obscure indie films. The sun was setting, and we strolled past my favorite antique furniture store and Ken Sander’s Rare Books. The boy at the ticket booth put down his phone to swipe my card and then we tucked ourselves away in the back of the theatre to watch First Reformed and let the pictures and light wash over us.
On our walk home, the city seemed different. It was a dark and quiet Thursday night. We walked past the open doors of a karaoke bar where a man inside sang to the empty room that he blesses the rains down in Africa. We walked past a man sitting against an empty storefront and snoring lightly with his chin on his chest. We walked past another man who watched us from the shadows of a coin-operated car wash and started banging on the trash bin when we went by. As we walked, the sound of his makeshift tin drum got softer and softer. A block from home, we passed a couple burning incense in their front yard.
Back at our apartment, we were met with a gust of musty, hot air. It grew stale so quickly in our absence. I sat down to write this, thinking that to write about a day feels like an unsolvable riddle and wondering how nectarines, road kill, and a walk home from the movies could possibly coexist. I can’t stop thinking about the nectarine pit that sits in the kitchen garbage, bits of stubborn flesh still clinging to it. I want it out of my house. So, I think I might take out the trash, and while I’m at it, I’ll check to make sure there are no bird feathers stuck in the front grill of our car.
Cicily Bennion is an MFA candidate at Brigham Young University where she studies creative nonfiction. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband.
Veritas of the Summer Solstice
5:15 AM. The sun rose six minutes ago, but the room is already over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I close the roller shades and fill a bowl three-fourths full of corn flakes, which taste delicious with or without milk. Today is a milk day. My skin is almost-sweating as I set the ceiling fan to its highest speed, trying my hardest to pretend it’s not hot (I have found that not thinking about sweating has sometimes successfully prevented its on-break). This is my favorite time of day—when it’s so early in the morning that nothing in the building is moving, and I can stare vacuously out the window.
I somehow start thinking about organza fabric. The window screen probably caught my focus. I don’t know the exact difference between organza and tulle, or tulle and mesh, or organza and mesh. There’s something about the texture and threading—I wouldn’t be able to put it in words. I’ve been sewing for years! How have I never thought about this? So I open three tabs for each of their corresponding Wikipedia pages, browsing the first paragraphs of the entries but planning to read the rest “at some point” today. Soggy, half-finished cereal. Neglected apple. I’m late for lab.
Right outside Winthrop House, one of the buildings (I would call it a dormitory, but Harvard insists it is not a dormitory) housing visiting summer researchers like me, a construction crew has recently repaved the road. What a delight. The new charcoal is deep and dark and smooth. For this reason, I like to walk on it. My steps feel vaguely springy; I am convinced the road is slightly rubbery, like a tennis court, but no one else has yet to corroborate this.
I pass through Harvard Yard in my arduous twenty-minute walk to the Biological Labs building. Every day there are tourists of every possible kind, in every possible location. The grass is trampled over 24/7, but it amazes me that it is still green. I step around a family of five, filling the whole span of the sidewalk with their stroller and luggage. They don’t seem to be headed anywhere in particular. They are happy enough looking around, witnessing the architecture of the oldest university in the United States.
As an undergraduate summer research fellow at Harvard, I am granted swipe access to the Biological Labs building. Swipe access isn’t needed during the workday, but I am always afraid the building managers will somehow forget to deactivate it when I show up in the early morning. The front door is absurdly difficult to open. I grab with both hands and pull—the door doesn’t budge—I panic; “I’m locked out!”—a moment’s more force, and the door yields—a breath; I can make it to my lab. Having spent the last twenty minutes in the open sun, I sit at my desk for a while, until the AC has cooled me so much that I get goosebumps, a sign that I really need to begin my experiments.
Today, I am carrying out single cell fluorescence in situ hybridization to detect messenger RNA molecules. It’s my summer project; three weeks in thus far, the post-doctoral mentor I work with and I have established a working protocol. Exciting. Now we need the data. I have to dilute the probes, make the buffers, label the cells, incubate… But before then, everything needs to be sterile, cleaned with RNase-Free spray. We say that you can never use too much spray, so I gather every piece of equipment I need and clean them all. For a few minutes, my only job is spray, wipe, spray, wipe, spray, wipe, spray, wipe—
I have to sterilize my gloves, too. This happens every time: I spray 70% ethanol into the palm of my gloves and rub it all over to sterilize them. For a millisecond, my faint and irrational fear surfaces again that the ethanol will seep through my gloves, through my skin, through my blood. But that’s not possible. Or is it? But it can’t. But it could….
The rest of the time in lab is spent mixing, and pipetting, and culturing, and observing. I watch my mentor pipette exactly thirty microliters of hybridization solution onto a strip of parafilm. It is a perfect drop, spherical like a crystal ball. We take the cells, which are attached to a very thin slip of circular glass, and lay them on top of the drop. The weight of the glass makes it fall flat onto the parafilm, with the drop spreading out and covering the entire surface. We do this for six different cell samples. Our entire experiment, contained within a drop and a glass.
I am grateful for lunch, a brief period where I can sit down. I order a small salad and eat the apple I was supposed to have for breakfast. The salad is, alarmingly, $11.52. I may have added too many kinds of vegetables. It is delicious, though, but I can’t make up my mind whether it was worth that price. I go back in lab for another five hours. The cells have been lovingly put in the incubator (please don’t die, cells), and it has been a solid day’s work. I linger a little longer in lab, huddled over my phone as I open Google Maps and search for local Cambridge restaurants. With my food stipend, I can afford to eat out a few times every week. I decide that today is an Italian dinner day.
Perhaps I’m biased by knowing that it is the summer solstice, but when I walk out of the restaurant, it seems that the sky is still unusually bright. The air is pungent from the smell of barbecue; I’m quite a distance from Harvard’s Summer Solstice Celebration at the Museums of Science and Culture, but I can still smell it. People are walking around with self-assembled floral wreaths on their heads, appearing especially odd as they line up to buy Vietnamese soups from a bright blue food truck. A young boy screams in excitement as he plays in the fountain. Quite a lovely celebration, but big crowds are not for me. I head back to Winthrop House.
11:58 PM. I shower, brush, change clothes, brush dry my hair. I should really be sleeping earlier considering that I wake up so early, but I always give myself some weak excuse to stay up. I haven’t finished reading all the Wikipedia pages I opened, right? So I read for a while, and it is already half past twelve. I roll out the roller shades, turn off the floor lamp, and sink into bed. It is still warm and humid. The ceiling fan is on full blast, but before I sleep, I have to decide what breakfast I want to make, so that I don’t have to wake up with that question tomorrow.
Linda is an undergraduate Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major, with a Creative Writing minor, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. This summer, she is doing a research internship at Harvard University. She loves science and creative writing equally, and is determined to pursue both with a passion.
Last night I had many nightmares. This happens a lot: losing my children, people I love staring over my head from a distance, visits from my dead or other people at least partially in the spirit plane to me, many other homeless and disembodied fragments of my consciousness that aggrieve me simply because I have no paradigms in which to house them.
This night’s batch, though, was directly attributable. I kept seeing everyday things like coins or glasses moving as I reached for them, in my dream-logic sensing they were in conversation with me. Anyone who has seen the recently released film Hereditary will not be surprised to hear that I watched it at the late show last night. I took my two teenage nephews, who have been visiting from out of town. I’m pretty sure one of them slept through at last part of the movie, but the other one said, “I think I liked the ending.” I thought I liked it too, but for different reasons. As Judy Collins sang “Both Sides Now” during the credits I was telling him how much it took from Rosemary’s Baby and The Witch, two movies he hasn’t seen. He responded by explaining to me, in precise detail, how each family member’s suffering and emotional state was given embodiment in each of their demise.
In the Lyft on the way home, we looked at photos and updates I’d posted to Facebook that day. We noticed my mother—their Nana—commenting on a status update involving my nephew who liked the ending, who then started ribbing the other that he’s obviously Nana’s favorite. About a month ago, the nephew who liked the ending took a bottleful of pills in a hopefully-halfhearted attempt at killing himself, something his mother—my sister—also did at the same age. While Toni Collette’s character was going into paroxysms of grief and rage at her teenage son, I’d thought but hadn’t said that she sounded a lot like their Nana did when I was younger than they are. I’m careful in what I tell them about this person who is now an old lady in a walker who wants them to visit her more but who was also the amphetamine-addicted teenager who, shortly after having me, found the informant who got my father put away and drove her to the middle of a field of cut corn, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night, and left her there, and who often would spin into crippling cycles of deep depression and blame her children for leaving her, long before we all left her.
My nightmares were interrupted at 4:45am, when my alarm told me my nephews were leaving me. This was their first visit to New York since I was married, when they were both younger than my children now are. During their time here we walked and talked, watched a Cyclones game, rode the Wonder Wheel and the Staten Island Ferry, rowed the periphery of the little lake in the middle of Central Park, traded twenty dollars for colored bracelets with the monks on Times Square, drank juice from coconuts a Jamaican hacked open with a machete, attended my younger daughter’s stepping up ceremony, talked about kids their age and adults my age, and ate lots of hot dogs. Now I had to get them out the door and into their service car to LaGuardia. I was only half-awake and still thought everything I tried to touch would jump away from me as I reached for it, so I let them carry their own luggage out.
John Proctor lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and chihuahua. He has a website: NotThatJohnProctor.com
Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors