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June

I’m writing poetry on the phone, hold music
like fingernails-on-spine, the creak
of objecting bones, thank-you-for-your-patience
please-hold. Student loans. Twenty five. Tired. Twenty
six this fall. Not wanting to be back in school but wistful
for sprawling in the grass half sleeping, the feel
of cobblestones underfoot and leaves turning and bagpipes
that skirl at night and in the rising dawn.

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Somehow the least awful moment of the whole brutal day was when he went to his knees and then laid himself down and died. It was so quiet, and so–not painful, not panicked, just body down and head stretched out, and it was such a damn relief and so fucking sad.

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When I was a little girl, I started riding at the stable round the corner, and almost as soon as I started I was warned off one of the horses as unreliable and untrustworthy. It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I worked out that it was less Bad Nature and more Poor Training (with a healthy dash of Sliiightly Inbred thrown in there for good measure), and started ponying him around in an idle manner, getting to know him. I was eight when we met, and he was already twice my age with ludicrous conformation and atrocious ground manners, a bug-eyed, long-maned, stargazing, absent-minded Arabianish chestnut gelding.

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My mother rode him on trail rides, and he was my barn-sister’s first 4-H project; for him we invented a whole new way to put a horse on a trailer–involving two long ropes knotted together, gloves, leverage, and some serious patience–that drew stares at every show we went to. We always told people he was a little bit gay; he adored my gelding and was crazy about Justin, the horse he was raised with, before Justin passed away a number of years ago. He didn’t see well, had a tendency to whip his head back and forth when moving any faster than a trot which we never worked out an explanation for, and was deeply uncomfortable to ride bareback due to distressingly high withers. He had cataracts and string halt and Cushings, all of which made him look a little funny but never got in his way. And he was old. He was born at the farm, a mistake and a surprise, and we called him all sorts of things, Beetle and Beasley and B, Brian Timothy’s Surprise! and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Doofus and BT.

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This morning, as I sat down at my desk, my phone rang and rang and rang again, and when I looked down at who was calling–Meg, my barn sister, my best friend–I knew. 45 later minutes I was out of the office and on the train, up the stairs, getting changed, and in her car on my way home. One look at him in the paddock told me that this had to be the day. He didn’t look unhappy, but he looked old and sick and ready to go, and one of the things I was taught growing up as a young horse-mad girl was that we owe the horses we love an end that is dignified and free of pain.
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We spent the rest of the day following him around, telling stories, petting him and feeding him cookies and carrots and hay and his favorite mushy-pellet lunch, sitting outside his open stall and talking and trying not to cry, and crying, and smiling through it because he had always been a weird, weird horse who licked you with the back of his tongue and did not respect your personal space because he just loved being near you too much. He stood on Meg’s toe and smacked me in the face with his nose and we laughed and shooed the flies away from his legs for him so he didn’t have to move his hurting feet to kick them.

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While we waited for the vet we put on his new halter and walked him down to the Long Field, where a grave had been dug for him next to where his mother, Huda, and Justin and Jenny and April and Pal, and all the dogs, were already lying underneath the hill. He wasn’t worried or upset, and stood for us to trim his mane until we all had a braided lock to put in our pockets or cling to, and then wandered around lipping at grass as we followed him as if he were leading us. All the pictures of those last few minutes we are smiling, because this was something he always did, walked those circles around us and into us, and because he deserved his last moments to be in the sunshine, with the people who loved him showing him that everything was alright. And then the vet came, and we all said our goodbyes in whatever way we needed to, hands against his shoulder, his neck, the sides of his long thin face, and then stood back to watch and wait and witness.

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Meg and I held him while the vet did what she had to, soothing him with our hands beneath his chin and with our voices, and because above all we are good horse people our hands were steady and somehow we did not cry until it was time to step away and let him go. But after that we clung with our arms around each other and sobbed as if our hearts would break because sixteen years ago we were little girls together watching BT through the fence.
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When he lay down to die he did it without fear, and when we knelt to stroke his face we knew we had done right. I was the one to take the halter off, and without it he looked calm and half-asleep, the pain that we had seen every line of him gone. And then one by one we got up from our knees, and walked away, listening to our vet tell us stories of death and birth and love.
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Some horses are good at telling you it’s time.
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Something that flat startled the hell out of me, several months into our relationship, was finding out that Jim is nearly two years my junior. I’m coming up on twenty-four my next birthday (which granted isn’t until September), and he’s coming up on twenty-two. Our birthdays are only ten days apart, which is convenient for someone with an awful memory for dates, and that’s all I knew for a while. All evidence suggests that this must not be true, since we met on OKCupid, which lists your age, but all the same; I remember being totally floored when I found out he was so much younger. I tend to automatically assume that anyone who doesn’t have gray hair or baby fat is essentially my age, and treat them as such. Jim and I are at parallel stages in life, and we’re stupidly happy; it’s only when someone points out that he’s my brother’s age, and I’m his sister’s, that it becomes in any way relevant.

This is what you might call a trend—and not just with partners and lovers, but with all different kinds of people in my life.

My best friend since I moved to Westford (not where I live, but essentially where I’m from) is someone I met as a very young child, the summer before I turned nine. We both have extremely vivid memories of meeting each other with our mouths full of blackberries and my hair in my eyes; we were pretty much inseparable for the next ten years. She tells me that when I went to college, she felt lost–I did too. You spend your life with someone, and then move, and there’s a big empty space where they were, a quiet spot in your day where before you talked for two hours at the barn. The thing about Meg—who I love, who became my sister—that always amuses me in a low-level way is that she is well over two years younger than I am. That means she was, when we met, six. Six and almost-nine is a big difference at that age–I’m not sure I even noticed. I have no memory of ever thinking about it, until I moved up to middle school or high school or college, and she was left behind.

I am not a stranger to leaving people behind.

When I was in Australia, I met Jory in the flesh.  I actually met Jory online a number of years ago; he was one of the most established people on the forum we were both on, incredibly well-spoken, very smart, very thorough. When we met up, in the Melbourne zoo in August of my Junior year, I wasn’t real clear on what Jory looked like, having never seen a picture and not actually knowing what a quoll (the stuffed animal he said he’d be carrying) looked like. I spent the first five minutes walking through the zoo, peering at all the people around my age, or very slightly below it–and so was deeply disconcerted to encounter a small and obviously much younger person grinning and swinging a spotted rat-like toy by the tail.

At that point, Jory was still a teenager. I was just about to turn twenty-one, only a few weeks shy. Our experiences to that point were continents and countries apart, because between your late teens and early twenties—between highschool and college—is sometimes this yawning gap where you do an enormous amount of growing up.  We should not have had much to say to each other. The ensuing visit with his family should have been awkward. I should not have come back to their house again and again, should not have attended birthday parties, slept over, memorized the walk from Glen Waverly to his house—

And yet. But still. Because in not very long at all, I was reaching out to hold Jory’s hand in the dark as we talked about all the things you can’t say during the day. I remember that grip so vividly, so viscerally—in that moment, there weren’t years between us, there were two exhausted, lonely, shaken young adults who needed to hold someone’s hand, who needed a lifeline.

…I have a friend right now is quite literally old enough to have birthed me; in a few more years, I’m sure I’ll haves ones young enough to be my kids. (Give me time, I’m only twenty three.) Because when I fall for someone, as a partner or as a friend—and don’t let anyone fool you, all good friendships involve falling a little bit in love, the same way all good partners are also your friend—I forget everything about them except the things that made me love them in the first place.

I watch the TV show Bones because I am crazy for two different people.

I mean it’s also great television, or I wouldn’t still be keeping up with it, you know? I love Tempe and Seeley; I think it’s a smart, blunt, funny, gruesome show. It gets a little too human once in a while (I just like the dead bodies and Bones’s complete inability to figure out how to be a real person), but mostly I enjoy it to the hilt. I like Angela’s ludicrous magic art-science solutions and Hodgins’ crazy eyes and the faces Cam makes and the Gormagon killer.

But mostly, I watch it out of love.

I started watching Bones with my girlfriend at the time and our mutual friend Em. Now, I liked Fe (short for Favorite Ex) pretty completely, but it’s Em I want to talk about here. I respect her in a shy, cautious, adoring manner, and loved that she seem reasonably fond of me. She’s very smart and very outspoken and very independent.  Although she has a romance-novel streak, her entertainments are typically very intellectual.

And as I said earlier, Bones is a smart show.

So we three, and sometimes others, would sit and watch it. This was a highlight of my week, sitting with Fe and Em and being shushed every time I tried to say something. I seek community, no matter how tiny, and I felt accepted into a group those days–because Fe and Em are so tightly connected, so linked to each other. Those evenings ended when Em moved into the Archaeology Dork house, and I didn’t keep up with Bones as I should have. Wasn’t the same.

Two years later I met Jim.

He watches Bones too, and I idly started watching the newer episodes with him because I remembered the Gormagon plotline from when I watched with Fe and Em, and remembered liking it–but mostly because I really, really like Jim. And when I have a partner, or want to be friends with someone, I tend to try to access the things they do, look at the things they like, see if I can love the things they love. It’s a way of falling for someone, and showing them that.

 

And whether it’s reading Rumi or watching Bones, I usually end up in love with something other the person I’m after.

 

 

Despite the titles of the past two blogs, I have no desire to force a gender on my kids. This is something Jim and I have gotten into over the past few days; as you might expect, he’s got some pretty solidly thought out ideas about why and how a kid should be raised up without feeling like they need to like princesses if they are a girl or trucks if they’re a boy–or even to feel like they have to be a girl or a boy.

So: here are the third of three sets of books I will read my children.

1. My Father’s Dragon. This is actually a set of three books–My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland. They’re very simple, and very sweet. The illustrations are black and white, very round-cornered and old-fashioned. There’s one or two seriously pleasing maps and a cat who talks, and a baby dragon named… well. I won’t spoil it for you. It is absolutely perfect to read as a going-to-bed book.

 

2. The Children of Green Knowe. So far as I have been able to find out in the past fifteen years, I am the only person who has read this book. It’s a very beautiful, very quiet, very English book. It’s hard to say much else about it, because part of its strangeness is what the reader slowly realizes. I first heard it read out loud, and done right, it’s utterly enchanting. Plus, I refuse to remain the only person who has ever read this.

3. Redwall. Every child should be given the chance to drool over imaginary meals they will never, ever be able to recreate. And repetitive plots are soothing to small children, and this series is particularly prone to going over the same territory over and over. Plus they’re a blast to read out loud–so many different voices to do! And at least one of them was a major family bonding episode for my parents, brother, and me; we took a long car trip and listened to Cluny the Scourge take over the Abbey. Perfect.

4. Peter Pan. This is the book I would choose to read to a sick friend my age, to a kid I was babysitting, to my own child. I have a recording of it that I listen to on a regular basis. For those of you who have only seen the movie–read the book. It’s a spooky, strange, surreal and beautiful book; I want my children to dream of Neverland and look out the window for Peter and the second star to the right. I want to share that experience with them.

 

So there you have it. A round dozen book I consider to be indispensable to becoming a lover of books at a young age. There are dozens more, of course–I was a brutally focused reader even as a child, and I have so many books I loved and was touched by. I don’t have the time, or the space, to possibly cover them all.

 

But I invite you to share your lists, if you have them.

I don’t know that I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’m the oldest child in my immediate family (and the oldest girl among the cousins, but that’s another entry). I have a brother who is twenty-two months my junior. When I was much younger, I used to watch my mother read with and to E; I was much more my father’s child, and a more independent one in general. I’m too like my mother for anyone’s good.

Anyway. Continuing the list.

1. The Wind in the Willows (thanks to a commentator for reminding me of this one). We had a handsome and very small version of these with great pictures. These books are at the heart of my love for badgers and talking animals, although they definitely weren’t the only books that grew that. I love the simplicity of their names and the absolute weirdness of their adventures; Rat (Rattie to Mole) was my favorite. Frog cracked me up. I like how he always gets his comeuppance; a good lesson for a rambunctious kid.

2. Continuing a theme, Frog and Toad are Friends is one of my most wistfully beloved books. I remember hardly anything about it, but I remember the look and feel of it, and it’s a good story for children wondering if they’ll ever have a best friend. If my son is anything like me, and like my brother, then he’ll want that reassurance until he gets his confidence up. Plus, then he and I can watch the weirdest movie ever together, and we can have a nice little bonding moment when he has nightmares. Just like I did.

3. Winnie the Pooh. There’s not even anything to say here. Everyone should have this read to them. It starts a love for poetry early, and a joy in language, and encourages imaginary friends. I want my son to have an imagination as big and complicated and vivid as his mom’s.

4. Speaking of imagination… The final book on my list this evening (though I’ve got more coming up) is Alice in Wonderland. This is a nice segue book for a kid who’s starting to read by himself–read him Wonderland, and let him work his way through Looking Glass alone if he wants to. Plus it has such a wicked archaic gleefulness to it, such an investiture in total nonsense; kids have a streak of that anyway, and I want to urge him to keep that through to adulthood.

Four more to come later this week.

When I started this blog I made a pretty conscious decision not to make this a blog about literary criticism or discussion, aside from in a very general sense–see my discussion of books I’ll read my kids from yesterday, and keep an eye for an entry called Things I Must Believe, which is about the things we have to believe are true to keep sane. Mine happen to be mostly literary.

Aside from those, though, I decided not to talk about books too much. I’ve used Young Wizards and Neil Gaiman to talk about my beliefs, but I wanted to get away from the English-major modality in which I’ve been thinking and writing for over four years. If people are going to know me at all (which probably they won’t), I want to be know for more than just talking about books. Even though that’s what I do with my friends and partners and parents, I wanted to spend some time thinking more about gender and sexuality and other interesting things I never had time for because I was busy write-write-writing about books.

But I’m going to make an exception today.

See, the last time I went back to my parent’s house for the day, I pulled half a dozen books from the big bookcase in the spare room. (For those interested, my family has between eight and ten good-sized bookcases in the house; this is the tallest but not the biggest.) Most of the books I’d either read or wanted to read for ages; one I pulled and didn’t recognize, but the cover looked amusing and vaguely trashy-fantasy/sci-fi-ish. It looked like it was probably one of my dad’s books; he’s as into genre fiction as I am.

So I dump all these books on the table, and my father wanders in to flip through them because he’s nosy. He holds up the book I hadn’t recognized and says, Are you borrowing this?

Yeah, I said, rummaging through my bag.

Then I have to get you another one by the same guy. And he runs off to his room to fetch it. In an altogether too gleeful a manner for a fifty-something year old guy. And comes back with a very solemn-looking and sizeable book with the full moon on its cover.

The reason my dad was so excited was because I’d picked up The Cat Who Walked Through Walls by R.A. Heinlein. Remember when I said my dad is a genre-fiction guy too? Well, his genre is Science Fiction, where mine is Fantasy, and Heinlein is (if you have been living under a rock for fifty years) the greatest of the scifi greats.

And I’d never read him. Not once–and I even made a run at Tolkien for my dad’s sake. I thought Heinlein was dusty and dull and boring, dated unpleasant futuristic scholk. Don’t ask me where I came up with this because I don’t know. I’d never touched Heinlein, not a single novel, not one short story. And then just last week I read Uptown Local and Other Interventions by Diane Duane. And found out that Heinlein had loved Ed the shark (who will show again in an entry or two). And I thought, okay, he’s got to have something, maybe I’ll pick up this book I found on the shelf and give him a chance.

I fell in love.

I haven’t been this sucked into a book since I was reading the Tamora Pierce books as an eleven year old or the first time I read American Gods. I can hardly tear myself away. I’ve finished Cat Who… already; the other one is sitting open on my shins right now, fifty pages in already. (The other book is, by the by, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress–considered by some Heinlein’s greatest work. It’s going to be all I can do to not stay up until midnight with it.) I can’t believe I went so long without them. I’m entranced, my breath is taken away. This is what it was like to discover Charles de Lint, to have a whole world open up in front of me, one that will take months or years to get through. I don’t panic, seeing so much left to read–instead I can hardly bear the thought that I can’t spend all my time sunk deep into that world, and yet rejoice that there will be so much time left to spend in it. I am something close to crazy with this. I don’t think most people completely grasp my book mania; I cart a novel almost everywhere and am able to go on about them for insane amounts of time. I like almost everything I read, and have a hell of a time trying to decide on my favorite.

So when I say that these two novels are the best ones I’ve read in the past two or three years?

You have to understand that that really, really means something.