Two years ago, I said I was going to write a book by the time I was 30. On New Year’s Eve 2016, I said I was going to write a book in 2017. Today… dude, today, I’m still hoping I’ll have my book written by the time I’m 30, but that’s in like, less than six months. I like pressure, apparently.
I also like just writing. So that’s what I’m doing here. Every year I go on and on about how I hope to leave handwritten letters and leather-bound diaries and journals full of musings for my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And every year I realize it’s really f’n difficult to write with actual paper and pencil and I lose track of the things I want to say because I can’t write as fast as I think and I end up with a cramp and poor penmanship and I’m just pissed off at myself.
But hey, writing on the internet is better than nothing.
Today, Alice and I went on a walk. We circled our side of the neighborhood a few times and paid attention, like Harriet the Spy style, to the things happening on our block. There was a guy out sawing something in his driveway at the end of our street. There was a stupid teenager looking at his phone while driving that almost ran us over. (I seriously threw my arms up at him and he looked very apologetic, but he still drove off and I was fuming.) There was a mom (I’m guessing) loading up her daughter’s car with boxes and bedding, looking wistful as they tried to cram what looked like her childhood into her blue hatchback and I wondered if she was moving out, if she was going back to college after the winter break, if maybe she wasn’t a daughter but instead a Craigslist customer who came by to pick up some gently used sheets (ew) and maybe a box full of Valentine’s Day decorations. (Side note: I want to buy Valentine’s Day decorations. We have a red front door. It kind of begs for a pretty wreath.)
There was the woman walking two dogs — one was very small, the other very large. (The dogs I mean.) It was comical almost how she was nearly dwarfed by the dog on her left, but towered over the dog on her right, and I wondered how she kept up with them both on leashes. Did the big dog have to slow down for his tiny sibling? Did the little sibling get worn out trying to keep up with the big dog’s gait? Did she let them walk at their own paces, her in the middle, seemingly suspended in air by leashes?
There was the girl hobbling down our street on crutches, holding a small bag in her left hand. She was heading in the direction of our neighbor’s house, the neighbor that’s a piano teacher, and I wondered what happened to the girl to need crutches. A soccer game? A car accident? A sprain on some ice? I admired her gumption to hobble down the road to make it for, what I assumed, was 4:30 Tuesday piano lessons. I thought about how I need to ask my neighbor for my own piano lessons and sign Alice up, too. How nice would it be to just walk down the road for piano lessons? So easy, you could even do it on crutches.
And then there was me — pushing my 3-year-old around the neighborhood. To get her to sit still in the stroller so I could actually enjoy a workout instead of stopping ever half step for a stick, I gave her a Tupperware container full of Cheez-Its and cookies — a well-balanced lunch. She had her dinosaur cup (IT’S BLUE!!! she says to anyone who mentions it) full of milk, Mickey Mouse, a singing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and tiny pink and purple kitty cat stuffed in beside her. She seemed happy and pleased with the world, looking like a tiny FDR being wheeled around her stomping grounds, dictating to me to go left or right (“NO MOMMY, I SAID LEFT.” “Alice, this is left.” “…MOMMY, GO RIGHT.”). After about 20 minutes, she started to drift off, her Cheez-Its slipping out of her grip, scattering the tiny orange squares in front of the house that used to have a Donald Trump sign in the yard (Actually, it was a sign that read “I support President Trump, not FAKE NEWS MEDAI”) and now has a Confederate flag in the garage. I kept walking, popping my earbuds in to listen to an episode of a podcast I’ve heard a thousand times, but ugh, they just ended their second season and I’m in withdrawals so I have to listen to old eps over and over again.
The episode was entitled “The Middle Place” from Terrible, Thanks For Asking, and is all about the place between life and death. When those we love are in hospice, when those we love are in another world, somewhere, when those we love aren’t here, but they aren’t gone. And as I rounded the corner home, I thought about all the middle places everyone I saw today was in. The woman who may or may not have been sending a daughter off into the real world with her car full of belongings. The girl hobbling to her piano lessons. The woman walking her dogs. Their venture outside today was just The Middle Place. Just a spot in their day that mattered in some way or another. They (hopefully) aren’t between life and death, but they were between life and… well, life. A piano lesson after school, but before dinner and homework and playing a game of catch with their little brother, and waiting up to see if the 10:00 news is going to report that there’s a snow day tomorrow. A walk with two dogs in the middle of the day, taking a break from a grueling work project inside. Loading up their daughter’s car to send her to her dorm before she makes dinner for her spouse and stands in her daughter’s bedroom doorway, silently weeping at the little girl who took her laptop and bedding and phone charger, but left her stuffed animals in a pile on her closet floor.
And me, a woman who just wanted her kid to quit playing on the tablet and maybe take a nap. Before dinner, before finishing the laundry, before approving timecards for work, before binge watching The Crown some more.
The Middle Place. (Also known as The Place Where I Officially Become Gladys Kravitz.)
“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.” — Elizabeth Berg