Saturday, June 21, 2008

Welcome, summer.

I think summer is the loneliest season. Everyone talks about how the holidays are hardest for those who "have nowhere to to go," but it seems to me that more people make an effort to reach out to the lonely at that time of year.

June is a hard month. Everyone is graduating, saying goodbye, looking back but moving forward, starting boot camp, getting a new job, departing, taking off, starting over, making transitions. And around here, they're driving drunk and jumping off bridges. They always do, in June. It's just that time of year.

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So we all know about my photographic memory, the way I remember all kinds of things very, very clearly. I know, too, that it's not always reliable, particularly as I get older. I recently heard about a scientific study that found all new proof that memories are malleable. The study worked with subjects who witnessed crimes. The less people described what they saw, the more accurate their memories were. The witnesses who went over and over their memories of the events, the less accurate they ultimately were. It seems that the very act of remembering something changes the way we remember it.

I think that explains a lot about me. I sometimes feel like I'm living forward and backwards at the same time. I spend so much time out in the communities I cover, so much time meeting people and observing and documenting their lives that my own personal experiences and my own past bubble up all the time.

I'm not just photographing a swim meet; I'm remembering that I was the 8-and-under quaking with fear on the starting block. I'm not just shooting the fireworks; I'm the teenager on the blanket with her friends. I'm not just getting dinner from the snack bar because it supports the Little League, and anyway, my newspaper sponsors the tournament; I'm the girl counting out all the pennies, then the penny candy, for minimum wage minus tax. I'm not just grabbing a quick hot weather photo of kids getting ice cream from the Good Humor truck because layout says there's a hole on A3; I'm a delighted 7-year-old asking to leave the dinner table puh-lease?!? I'm a 19-year-old falling in love with an actor who sells ice cream during intermission, I'm an engaged woman who has seen enough Shakespeare in the Park to last a lifetime, thankyouverymuch.

All it takes is one whiff of gunpowder and sparkler smoke, the biting scent of chlorine, the jingle of the ice cream truck, the raisin-y smell of fireflies in a plastic container: I'm 5, I'm 15, I'm 29, and I'm late for my next assignment. Welcome, summer.

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Today is Stephen's wedding day.

Yes, we still talk to each other. I haven't actually seen him since the night he walked out with my guts all over his shoes, but we chat on the phone every so often. We talk about work; about how to use PhotoShop in quick mask mode. I ask him questions I know he knows the answer to.

Voicemail, 6:59 p.m. *Beep* This is Stephen L!bby. Please leave me a message.

Me: Hey, Stephen, hope you're well. Listen, I have a question for you. I was hoping I'd catch you after work but before it got too late. What is the, I don't know, the theater term, I guess? for when a show starts with a very specific opening scene that then repeats itself at the end. You know.. like in Julien's play "Roger and Tom" but it's usually slightly different the second time. Okay, like in the Broadway musical "Curtains," right? It starts-

Robot Lady: You have exceeded the maximum amount of time for this message. To erase and re-record, press 1. To keep recording where you left off, press 2.

Me: (presses 2) So it starts with a scene from a play within a play, and then the star gets murdered and the show is all murderer mystery-esque, and THEN at the end of the musical, they show the same scene from the play within the play AGAIN, but it has all new meaning because the audience knows all this stuff that they didn't know before. Yeah. That. What's that called? Okay, bye!

Cell Phone, 9:46 p.m. You have a new text message.
Me: I have a new text message!
Stephen via text: I think the term you're looking for is "coda," like in music.
Me: (texting) Coda! Yes! Thanks, dude.

There was a brief, awkward period of time where I was advising him about picking a good wedding photographer, and I thought they were going to ask me to shoot their wedding. I've done it before for another Big Time Ex Boyfriend. Stephen knows this, he was my anchor and my date who got me through it. I was seriously considering it, at which point Amanda told me she'd have me hit over the head and taken out of the country. Jo said she'd pick my unconscious body up at Heathrow if it came to that.

I am not their wedding photographer.

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We *are* in close enough contact that we know the basic details of each other's weddings. I shared what I had found aboutthe pros and cons of different honeymoon registries, wedding website templates. He's been to Joel's and my wedding website; I've been to his. It's cute.

I know they're going to London and plan to more or less repeat everything we did together in 1999, right down to the day trip destinations, the long weekends, the shows on the West End. I asked him if he's trying to erase me, a European do-over. He shouts no! You're insane! it's just that his bride-to-be has never been there before. They made their honeymoon registry out for the things he knows they'll like. He tells me to go take my crazy pills.

Ahem. I think he may have lost the right to tell me to do that. I laugh, but I change the subject to his nephew.

Andrew is good. Andrew is still dealing with some sensory-integration issues. He's been tested by everyone for everything, but they say he's extremely intelligent. He just processes things differently. You can tell him, "Andrew, go put on your shoes" and it just doesn't get through. "It's weird," Steve says. " He's not ignoring you. Basic instructions like that just don't click." Steve's brother's family speaks both Polish and English at home. The phrase "Go put on your shoes" more or less translates phonetically as "Shadzee Ladzee Me Boo-Tee."* It's one of the few Polish phrases I had picked up when Andrew was little, but I had completely forgotten about it.

Completely forgotten. The un-remembered memory, true to the scientific study I mentioned above, is pure, unchanged. Wham.

On the other end of the phone, Stephen starts up with a bit about a robot. The robot is saying "Shadzee Ladzee Me Boo-Tee" in "a robot accent." He's cracking me up with the Polish robot voice, saying if "Robot" were an ethnicity, his "robot accent" would be offensive, and I'm laughing into the phone, laughing so hard I almost can't breathe.

He's laughing, too, delighted at how well this bit is going over, and somewhere in the mingled sound of me laughing and his pleasure at my laughter is the faintest echo of a sound I would have once described as the sound of "Us." If this laughter is all that's left of our once-very-tangible-love that lasted, in its own way, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health for so long... Well, it's a pretty good part to keep. The work we did to get here, to construct a friendship out of our house of fallen cards... It feels worth it.

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I went to see the "Sex and the City" movie tonight by myself after working the late shift. Joel has no interest in seeing it; he had other plans. I got a Coke and a bag of popcorn. I haven't done that in years. I settled in the air-conditioned theater with my snacks and watched the oh-so-romantic tale of two lovers who beat their relationship like a dead horse for six seasons on HBO, on never-ending sanitized re-runs on TBS, and now, for two and a half hours on the silver screen. I felt true compassion for Carrie when she shrieks "Get me out of here!" as she realizes she's been left at the altar, but part of me wanted to smack her upside the head. Duh, it's Big. He's punks out. It's what he does.

I had to smile, though, as I watched Charlotte and Miranda and Samantha hold Carrie together with both hands throughout the movie. My girlfriends scraped me off the floor with a spatula three-and-a-half years ago. Not long after I got engaged, my mom was talking about a few of her friends' daughters, their cautionary tales of "the starter marriage." I told her, "My experience with Stephen taught me the difference between feeling sure and being sure."

I came home from the movie and greeted Joel with half my heavy gear, to be schlepped up the last of the stairs. It's after midnight. I say, "Today is Stephen's wedding day. I need to write."

"Oh," Joel says, with genuine gentleness. "That's hard. I'll leave you to it" he says, as I boot up the computer. He brings me the power cord to my laptop and a glass of ice water. He kisses me once on the forehead, twice on the cheeks. I lose count on the lips.

I live forward and backward. I am the pre-teen me poolside with the Danielle Steele novel, the girl with the broken heart, the woman with the new life, the sweet fiancee, the best of things to come. When I really get down to the heart of the matter, I want all the best for Stephen and Anna, too, for them to have the beautiful midsummer wedding they've been dreaming of.

After all, it's June. It's just that time of year.

2 comments:

shannon said...

This was lovely, lady. You are lovely.

Wetzel said...

What a beautiful post! As I've said about 10,000 times before, you are one of the most talented writers I know.