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the lost years

I spent almost 25 years living alone in New York. There might be a moment on a shoot, when it became clear we would be running late. Phones were slid from pockets, as the crew had hushed conversations with their loved ones. That solemn, apologetic tone was the same no matter who was talking as they answered the question "When will you be home?" I had no one, nothing but an empty apartment and some dirty dishes. I had half-written books, and guitars leaning against the walls. There was film in the cameras, waiting to be developed.

I have almost no memory of these years now.

Right now, V is sick. Nothing terrible, but enough to stay home and parade around the apartment in her favorite pyjamas. N is cooking various treats for her, unable to predict which one she will actually eat. The doorbell rings, and it might be a doctor visiting from the local clinic but it is her sister. The rooms are full of conversation and fresh cups of coffee. I try not to step on the toys that are a…

nobody can laugh as loud (tiny earthquakes)

It is already 9:15 and I am rushing down the sidewalk past the construction crews that have ripped up the road in giant black chunks, already stripped to the waist sunburned and filthy. E is texting me to bring flowers and I tell her I did not forget the chocolates for her teacher. No, flowers too she writes, but there is no time and the stores open at ten. Ok just come quickly she answers.

There are giant puddles to navigate, with her guitar slung across my shoulder, the bag to carry gym clothes, my camera.

Upstairs the room is already crammed full of children and parents, people standing in lazy poses with cameras propped in front of them recording anything and everything with blank gazes. I get her attention, then wave my hands around to explain I will tune her guitar in the hallway so it will be ready. She nods once.

Children are running in packs, whooping and stomping. The guitar feels smaller than usual in my hands.

I squeeze back into the room and lean against the wall next to the chalkboard. A girl in a blue sequined dress does a dance routine that repeats and repeats until her hands eventually shoot into the air and the music finishes. The room erupts in applause.

The children approach the front of the room, reciting poems in groups of three or four.

At one point E stands in front, close to me. She speaks her part slowly, and I have an idea what some of the words mean. Later I learn everything.

    My dad is resourceful,
     smart, and brave.
     He carries me on his shoulders,
     even when he has hard things to do.
     It is boring riding on a sled without dad.
     Nobody can laugh as loud.
     I will hug him
     and say quietly
     I love you a lot.

The floor wiggles underneath my feet, and I guess it is the hordes of people on the stairs and halls or my half-empty stomach. A few days later I learn there was an earthquake in Eastern Russia that was felt all the way in Moscow.

And then it is her turn to play. I shuffle around the front of the room, finding a chair the right height, then positioning her footstool. My face is close to hers for a moment and I remind her to look at her left hand, not people's faces, to play slow and loud. She looks at me with her giant eyes and nods once.

She begins quietly, and the etude grows. It is pensive and sad but climbs at the end. She sits dramatically, head bowed and tilted to the left just a bit. I smell the perfume of grandmothers swirling around the room as I hold my breath and wait for her to reach the end. She does and her teacher looks at me, nodding fiercely, a smile stretching across her face. She had never heard her play before.

They tell us we can go away for an hour and a half but I want to stay, to take pictures of E and her friends, to watch the kids drink juice and cram their mouths with cookies.

E sits on my knee, her face turning in on itself. I ask her what is making her sad and she tells me I forgot to buy flowers. We have already given the heart-shaped box of chocolates and the card she made to her teacher. I tell her this is enough and she shakes her head no.
"We have to stand in the hall now and give a flower or a balloon to an eleventh grader." She explains.
I ask her teacher if it is a problem, that I did not understand this tradition.
She waves her hands around, dismissing me and takes two roses from her desk and hands them to E.

We stand in the hallway. The assistant principal stalks back and forth with a bullhorn in one hand, telling everyone what to do. Music blares from the speakers in the ceiling. The children begin to scream. A line of tall students, in bright colored dresses, in with blue bow ties make their way through the crowd as roses and tulips and daisies are thrust at them.

It is over as quickly as it began. We pack our things and head out to the street.
E is beyond sad to say goodbye to her teacher and her best friend who will not be here next year.

We walk slowly, and meet a woman with a girl from her class and a baby in a stroller. She is carrying the stroller down the steps of the underpass. I tell her I used to do the same, that it is good exercise. She laughs a little and rolls her eyes.
We walk together in the dark corridor, the ground still wet from last night's rain.
As we approach the stairs that lead up I offer to help her and she half-answers. Before I realize it, I am carrying the baby in the stroller by myself like I used to when E was three. The child looks up at me and squeezes her eyes closed, a lock of red hair falling across her forehead. At the top I rest the wheels back on the ground carefully. A wave of embarrassment washes over me, but the woman thanks me and the little red haired baby is smiling a little, or maybe it is just the bright sky above us.

E takes my hand.
"That used to be me." She tells me under her breath.
"Yes it was kiddo." I tell her. "And me too."


Sarah said…
What a wonderful post! So nice to see E. thriving in school!! I to am sad the year is ending. A good teacher is a wonderful thing! I hope the three of you have a wonderful summer!
Annie said…
Those photos are priceless (to say nothing about her poem!)

I would have guessed that loud laugh.

Russian opening and closing of school traditions are absolutely beautiful.

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