Ice Cream Place

I hear people complain all the time about the Valley and living here and how awful it is, and it always drives me nuts, and I have to stop myself from immediately reiterating Rose’s Condensed Bullet Point List of Why Complaining About Your Hometown Makes You Sound Like a Jerk.  (I’ve been working on this thing for years.)  But I just realized the number one reason why it bothers me so much, and that reason wasn’t even on the list.  Until now.

Look around you, guys, and wake up!  Wake up to the fact that when you live here in NEPA, you are never more than about a 5-7 minute drive away from the nearest purveyor of ice cream.  This is fantastic.  I don’t think everyone understands what a gift they’ve been given.  I mean seriously, people.  Stop where you are right now and think of the closest ice cream place.  Is it within ten minutes?  I would guarantee it.  Can you walk there?  Most likely.  You could absolutely ride a bike.  And I’m not just talking about a Turkey Hill or a Weis (although Turkey Hill ice cream is phenomenal, especially the fudge ripple).  I’m talking a genuine small-town ice cream place, the kind with sprinkles always rolling around the countertop, and garishly colored lights for nighttime, and you can never go there without automatically itching your ankle with your other foot while you stand in line because chances are you’ve got some whopping mosquito bites or at least painful memories of other bites.  This kind of ice cream place doesn’t take cards, cash only, and it’s super annoying but you also wouldn’t want it to change because then it would just be a DQ or something like that and not a childhood institution.  Bonus points if your favorite ice cream place is within 30 yards of a large and pleasingly cool body of water.  You know how I know that I’ve finally grown up?  Because I’ve gone back to childhood.  The cycle is complete.  I used to think that a soft chocolate cone with sprinkles was the most enjoyable thing in the world.  Then I turned 21 and realized it was actually a nice glass of white wine.  But now?  I’m back to soft chocolate.  And I’m totally fine with that.

Summer Sunday

Out of all the hundred and one ways in which the past four months have been awful, the worst are the summer Sundays.  I wonder if I would have had the strength or courage to break up with Danny if I had known these days were coming.  That the simple act of driving in my car with the windows down and my hand out in the pure flowing poetry of summer air would hurt this badly, like when you gulp water and it’s so cold it makes your teeth ache and you can feel it all the way down into your gut.  These should be the halcyon days: golden and blue skies, the fragrance of pine rising like incense as I drive through the woods, dusk lingering long past eight, but instead I only feel bruised, and nothing will settle inside my chest.  I can’t pray in my car now because when I pray, I can only ask why.  I hate that all my favorite music reminds me of him and just makes me cry.

Heartbreak won’t kill me, but I think if it did, it would do it softly, on a humid Sunday evening, when it knows I should be in his backyard with the dog, cool emerald grass under my bare feet, a sweating cocktail glass leaving rings on the patio table.  Instead, it creeps after me and finds me curled up on the couch at my home.  I am restlessly reading, watching X Files, talking with my siblings, trying to make a life without the back roads to Red Barn and Sunday suppers and Blue Ribbon ice cream.  Memories fill the room suddenly, tiny fragile things, butterfly wings unfolding, thin as gossamer and colored like diamonds.  I used to be the keeper of the butterflies.  Now they are uncontrolled, landing on my hands and shoulders, and for a moment I cannot breathe.

Then my father walks into the room and scatters them on the air, the grim specter of heartbreak chased away by his familiar face.  I am no longer a memory keeper, just a sorrowful daughter, a reader with a loving father.  Summer Sundays will get easier.  I am not sure I’m stronger, but I think I am becoming wiser.

 

Hidden Paths

“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”

I was reading the Lord of the Rings last night.  That’s all!

Little Glimpses

I don’t know what to write or how to write it.  All I know is that I need to write.  So instead of continuing the little brokenhearted pity party I’ve been mentally indulging in for the past few days, I’m going to write about the good things.  The happy things in my life and the solid ones.  I thought maybe I could write the heartbreak out, like drawing poison from a wound, but the more sadness I write, the more I cry.  And I am so tired, so tired of crying.

So here they are, these little glimpses. Like shining pieces of sea-glass just scattered on the shore, I pick them up, polish them off, and pocket them merely for the loveliness that is all their own.  There are beautiful things in the world, even in my world right now.  There is a shiny red bike that just needs new tires.  There are my seven siblings who cheer me up and make me laugh each in their own individual ways.  I’ve got the funny antics of Henry, who is quickly becoming the most hilarious rattie I’ve ever owned, and my Charlie who just loves to snuggle.  I saw a sunset the other day from my apartment window, the sky diffused into shades of pink and yellow, a candy-colored treat of glowing sunlight.  I read a poem and the words were perfect.  It’s playoff hockey time, with all the guts, glory, and agony you could want.  I was chatting with some people at the bar the other night, and it was a witty, lively, amusing conversation.  Those are a rare gift at the bar, and plus I made everyone crack up a few times.  When I walk out of my door in the morning for work, the foothills of the Appalachians sprawl out in front of me, a rolling line of green and gray that always strikes me with its simple strength.  Speaking of trees, I can see one on Public Square from my office window.  Just one, because of the way the buildings gap, but it’s a dandy of a tree, lofty and old and grand.  I glance at that tree half a hundred times a day, watching the green leaves bloom, and I picture myself climbing it, moving up and up, solid branches under my feet and the bark biting into my palms.  Just me, being me in a tree.  I walked in a fashion show the other night, for the first time, and it was a close to perfect evening.  Bright lights, stage, runway, a crowd, the rhythm of the music as I walked.  Modeling in a fashion show is something I’ve wanted to do for years.  To have the opportunity to do it with my good friends, with the swimsuits that Jess has worked so hard on, was exactly what I needed.  There was a moment backstage.  Cathy was curling my hair, and Channing was crimping hers, and Jess and Brittany were laughing nearby and I thought, this.  This is right where I want to be, right now.  Freeze frame.  I know I’m no Gisele (and certainly no Tyra) but one thing I do know is fashion, and how to walk.  I owned that runway, and the weirdest, most curious part of the whole night was that I knew I would.  After two and a half months of stepping through the shattered pieces of a stranger’s life, I caught a little glimpse of myself when I was a model for an hour.

I’ve been finding beautiful pieces all along.  Britt’s photo shoot with me, where I clutched my books to my chest like a life preserver while trying to pull off some high fashion poses, that was a piece of me.  Girly nerd.  Candlelight at Tenebrae, Callie coming home for Easter, being at Tommyboys after the Vigil Mass with the gang.  That was a piece of me.  Cooking stir-fry for the best roommates in the world.  That time I got a headache and Cathy made fun of me.  Taking Ang to Circles for the first time.  Visiting Michigan and just lying on the living room couch with Leo snuggled up next to me and Lucy running around.  There is pain mixed in with all those pieces, to be sure.  Every time I think of Danny, or want to text him, or see pictures online, it hurts all over again.  At least once a week, I get into my car after work and automatically grab my phone to call him.  Six years of a habit is hard to break.  It hurts in my heart.  It hurts in my soul.  It hurts to think about him, and it hurts to know that I’m better off not thinking about him.  That’s the simple truth.  But there is another truth in my life, hand-in-hand with the beauty and the sorrow.  There is the sure certainty of mercy, the bedrock of faith.  A guy at the bar on Saturday night asked me why I go to church.  I said Because truth is a rare and beautiful gift.  I hear truth in the words of Pope Francis, I see it in the lives of my parents.  It is present even in the midst of my desolation.  I can’t find God right now.  I don’t hear Him, I don’t feel Him, I can’t find Him.  Where are the promises?  I know them all but I can’t find them in my life.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and the crushed in spirit He saves.”  “My yoke is easy and my burden light.”  My hands clench when I pray.  I can’t even say the 23rd Psalm, that pillar of strength and courage across the Christian world. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Oh, but I do.  I want so many things.  However, wanting is not truth, and underneath all the misery and silence, I cannot stop believing in what I know to be true.

 

There is a stained-glass window with an image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd on it, and someone has thrown a rock through it.  I stand beneath it, looking up, and the richness of jewels falls gleaming upon my face.  No matter what spot I’m in, the light is ruby, sapphire, amethyst, and through the shattered pane, it flows in as liquid gold.  I see them there: beauty, truth, and sorrow.

Worlds

One of the reasons I enjoy reading fantasy novels so much is the world-building.  I am always in awe of writers like Ursula Le Guin or Brandon Sanderson, who can pack such fascination and mystique into their different universes, time and time again.  And that, I think, is (only) one of the reasons why breaking up with Danny has been so difficult.  The loss of all those worlds that could have been, that existed in my daydreams of the future.  It’s good to take one day at a time, but it’s also only human nature to plan ahead, to see a future with someone, especially when you are together for a number of years as we were.  I’ve always been one who wanders off into daydreams, imagining possibilities, conversations, spinning out interesting scenarios from any possible little encounter.  All those thoughts I had about us are gone, all  our future worlds’ potential, all the ideas and hopes and casual wonders.
I realize I might come across as desperately heartbroken and dying inside; I don’t mean to, especially in case Danny himself will read this.  (The thought of which I don’t mind: this blog has brought me incredible joy over the years, and it would not exist if it weren’t for him.)  My heart does hurt badly but I don’t want him to feel guilty.  Danny and I had different ideas for our future and we did what had to be done.  I don’t regret what I did or said- we both certainly tried to make it as simple and amicable as possible- merely the losses that came right along with it.  Those worlds I had spun out in my dreams, worlds with his family and friends, oh especially his wonderful family, worlds of love and laughter and the relationship we’d spent years cultivating.  To strip myself of my current life in less than an evening’s time and carry on into a suddenly bleak and very impenetrable future was the hardest battle I have ever fought.  I use past tense although, trust me, it is still ongoing.
I am a creature of habit, a lover of routine and the comforts of the familiar.  I am Catholic for many reasons, not the least of which is the eternal, unchanging aspect of its world. The seasons of the Church come and go, flowing ever onward in the cycle of faith, mystery being found even in repetition, and I delight in that.  I like to travel, but I don’t need to explore the world, unless it’s a world within a book and I’m exploring it while safely ensconced under my down blanket.  And yet, here I am.  The world I venture into now has only light enough for me to see until the end of today.  And although at times these past few weeks, it has seemed desolate and forsaken, menaced by sorrow, it is not.  This strange new world, birthed in the season of dust and ashes, already holds those dear to me: my family, who cheer me up with food and viewing parties of Charlton Heston’s epic The Ten Commandments, my friends both old and new, who let me cry in the middle of public places or teach me that the gift of friendship can be found in the most unexpected ways, and, of course, inexorably, inevitably, Christ.  He is present in this world as He was in my past, and ever will be.  Though I’ve drawn back and turned around and run away so many times before, His heart calls out to mine yet again, Hound of Heaven that He is.  I come heartsore and soul-silent to this world, alien to me now but real, more real than any universe in any book.  I pray for strength, for hope, for Danny, for joy, for the courage necessary to carry on.

Metaphors

And so, I write.  To give reason and form to the uncoupling links of my life.  To attempt to make sense of the suddenly shifting ice beneath my feet.  To put into sound and motion the interior collapse of me: the chunks of ice inside that are breaking off and breaking up and tipping down and bobbing on their sides until they reach the final arc of their swing and settle back down into place on the water of my life, where hopefully the jagged edges will smooth and reunite.  If I write fast enough, perhaps I can get ahead of those shattering ice floes, eclipse them in a blaze of typing, of thinking not about the emotions but merely the words and how they sound, rolling them around on my tongue, tasting all at once the smooth sweetness and slight acidity of language and expression.  And so, I write:

There are times now I feel like I’ve lost the words , like birds escaping from my mouth when I open it to speak.  The flutter of their wings in my throat, that raw taste of saltwater on my tongue.  I can’t talk for all the birds around me.  Birds with memories shining on their wings fly away from me, disappear into thin air.  Come back, birds.  Don’t leave me.  Don’t leave me without words.

I’ve never been in dread of so many things before in my life.  Silence.  Lent.  Night.  The last page of a book, when I look up from another world.  Summertime.  Facebook.  Memories.

Where am I now?  I’m thinking that the immediacy of the present was a heavy price to pay for the dreams of the future.  To give up on something good and solidly in front of me, because of that unstable and misty future is the hardest struggle of my life.  We none of us know what may happen tomorrow, or the day after, or in ten years time.  I have a dream.  But I also had a life.  I didn’t even get to say goodbye to his parents.  I gave something up to be free to gain something more, but it’s farther than ever from me.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard if there were more than total silence in my soul right now.  Where did you go, God?  Where are you?

The Shape of Winter

The shape of winter in a city takes its fluidity and form from a hundred subtle cues.  Slanting lines of snow are abruptly bisected by the appearance of roof and wall.  The maintenance men are motion and darkness in their tough winter coats and beards shivered with frost, their machines flinging out the snow in arching parabolas that pull the eyes and spirit higher, breaking the hypnotizing fall that is the tell of winter.  After the storms have begun to whirl, they will turn the thick black city fences with their spiky posts into tracings of angle and bar, mounded at their tops in mimicry of the gray sky above them.  Thick crystal icicles drip in winter’s direction, downward past the glass fronts of coffee shops and convenient stores, uncoupling the blocks of writing on their windows until one reads unfortunate and vaguely Latin phrases: “SPECI S TO Y CLAM C WDE” and “LOTT Y TI ETS H RE”.  The space and design of the city takes on a meaning of new importance, as the snow piles higher and wider, and forces the inhabitants into unheard-of proximity; a quickstep shuffle past a confluence of unsavory loiterers will suddenly skirt the edge of an embarrassing skid on ice or a fall into ridged and dirty snow. Out past the city limits, where one can find a frozen stream cutting through any copse of trees, the rhythmic slash of blades on ice shines as a deeper counterpart to the skaters’ motion.  The little boys tumble and run, darting in and out and frustrating the little girls, who prefer to add their foundation blocks to winter in the shapes of twirls and shy attempts at womanly grace.  The older boys and girls have often found themselves racing the moon, hand in hand and rosy-cheeked more with love than cold, surfacing at the night’s end as if from underwater, with an especial awareness of the air around them.  If one were able to hover in the sky high above the city and the skaters, their reward for such a reckless and daring maneuver in the heart of winter would be found in the joyful view of civilization and repetition: the city alive, pulsing with warmth and movement, its bulk highlighting the line of the white river that is displayed again in the curve of the children skating along in a row and once again in the flutter of colored scarves streaming out behind them, giving one a sense of nature collapsing slowly into miniature.  Back down upon the sidewalk, the light and shadow that so often play a part in the art of the city disappear beneath a leaden sky as another flurrying storm begins.  When the air is white with falling snow and moving through it is a challenge to something deeper than motion, the architecture of winter is displayed, drawing the heart ever onward, seeking in human nature’s contrary way the ability to rise again.

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