she has inherited a seaside house in puerto rico from her deceased artist lover– she’s never been there before and has no idea quite what to expect– at first it seems kind of a nightmare– there’s an upstairs tenant who’s blasting heavy metal, and when she and her friend confront him, he’s belligerent and dreadful– a physical fight breaks out, and the two girls prevail, walloping him over the head with a hardback book and locking him up in his own cheap handcuffs. he gets hauled off by the authorities, and the house begins to unfold its fabulous secrets. it’s rustic-painted in blues and greens and sits on a small town street. there’s a huge open fireplace of an industrial type, like for glass-blowing, and it’s clear the house has been converted from some type of small factory and haphazardly and somewhat ingeniously retrofitted by the artist. there are stairways that pull down and staggered half-storeys. the girls go investigating closed doors, assisted by a couple of local fellows who show up to check out the new owner. she discovers a whole lovely bedroom wing and is uncertain at first whether it belongs to her or to another tenant– but then she realizes it’s all hers, tenants, rental income, rooms, and all. it’s her new home, with fantastic hidden spaces for all kinds of creative purposes and a quickly evolving community of friends.
my mother and I are going upriver in a borrowed canoe– the water is flowing in the wrong direction. we have no paddles, so I’m trying to guide us with my hands toward our own boathouse where I can grab some– but the wind keeps blowing us off my intended course, and the paddles I’m reaching for keep slipping past my grasp. the wind blows us across the river to the far side of a reedy island, and I know we’re headed for open water. at some point I abandon ship, where both my mother and sister now sit together, in order to find paddles or some type of assistance.
I’m frolicking in the clear river water with friends when one of them says something about my cute little butt– I discover I’m wearing nothing but a tshirt and keep pulling it down and tell the friend to cut it out– but she’s determined to get me to show my cute little but to everyone– and finally, in utter dismay, I splash off across the river and scramble up the bank and away.
his face is utterly transformed, twisted by fury and loathing, and I can no longer see any trace of what I loved. the veins on his forehead bulge, his lips twist in a sneer. all I can think is how to get him out of here, how to escape. we’re standing in a hotel room with many doors and windows. finally he storms out, and I’m rushing around trying to fasten all the locks– but there are too many ways in, and I know he’ll be back. sure enough he finds an unlocked door I’ve missed and is advancing on me, venting further spleen– but I’ve heard him coming and managed to dial the front desk for help. I only wonder if they’ll arrive in time– he’s right there, towering over me, and I cry out for help– just in time they’re there, right outside the window, firing through it– I watch the explosion and the wounds bloom on him, and as he crumples, although I’m relieved, all I can think is, oh no, he didn’t really deserve that— and it’s my fault.
I’m tagging along behind her out of the club when she runs into him– he’s giving her offhand orders before he slouches off, too cool for himself– I’m appalled and ask her why she takes that treatment– I ask her why she’s referred to as “the unit,” and she shrugs and says he gave her that name– and I say, why not get rid of it? so we rename and reinvent her, and soon she’s headlining. I watch her bloom under the spotlight, her voice swelling as she soars through the air on a trapeze swing in perfect orchestration.
I’m stuck behind the scenes as the production opens unexpectedly in the house where I’m staying. I’m sneaking around upstairs in the wings, trying to peek down at the play going on onstage, but every time I get a glimpse, I realize I’m in the lit eyeline of the audience and duck back out of sight. I try to cross to get out of there, but there’s no way to stay hidden.
I keep trying to go back to boarding school for a do-over– I show up early in a room with five beds and take a top bunk. it’s a big room, and I’m thinking, this is going to be just fine— and then I’m imagining it with all the girls for each bed there and realize just how full it’s going to be.
I’m trying to watch or listen to a really ancient tv or radio that squats in the middle of the room, barely getting npr or pbs, when the roommates begin to show up. one of them starts fiddling with the wires at the back, trying to get something she thinks is better, and it stops receiving altogether.
we go out en masse to our first day’s meal in the dining hall, and, walking there, I’m trying to explain, briefly, what I’m doing there, so much older– but they don’t really care, and I realize I’m making an issue where there was none before. at the same time I feel this strong need to explain myself. it’s a gorgeous bright late summer day as we walk across the campus to the dining hall, and I’m kind of amazed by how pristine it all is and how taken-for-granted.
in the dining hall I’m avoiding any teachers who might know me from before and ask me what I’m doing back. I can see them at their table across the way, talking about adult things. I’m at a table with my roommates, and it’s all going okay until I slip up– twice– and correct somebody’s use of a word– not only being an irritating know-it-all but, what seems to really matter, revealing myself suddenly and undeniably as not belonging– I have too much knowledge, acquired through years and years of school and reading– just what am I doing here? I jump ut and offer to get something for the roommate I’ve just corrected– at first she says, no, it’s okay, I can get it myself— but I insist, take her precise order for coffee, and dash off.
I run into a tangle trying to figure out which cups people use for coffee to-go– I keep picking up different things and finding them inappropriate: wax-soaked or seamed with gaps– finally I see some tupperware cafe au lait bowls and am trying to get two with fitting lids, only I can’t find any clean ones– there are some inside the institutional dishwasher, but I don’t want to wait for its whole cycle to run, so I try to sneak a dirty one under its jets of hot water– only it gets caught up and spun around and momentarily jammed up inside– and I can just imagine breaking the whole thing and drawing all that unwanted attention to myself.
I’m standing halfway down a crowded staircase while the people around me, above and below, are arguing a point– and finally, when one of the women’s comments begin to get painfully far-fetched– we’re all just standing there watching her self-immolate rhetorically– until I can no longer stand it and speak up– my voice is clear and strong, and I surprise myself with how intelligent I sound– but in another moment I feel I’ve said too much, gotten carried away in the spotlight and have to cut myself off and duck out of the building altogether– at once proud of myself and unbearably embarassed. I walk out and head for the diag (I’m in ann arbor) for some space and clarity. I’m crossing the white marble piers at the base of the main library steps, and everything is sun-washed even though it’s wintertime, and I’m grateful for the wide-open space I’m approaching– I’m walking along one of the concrete paths when I feel someone reaching into my purse, and I grab at it with my hands and then bite the air beside me and clamp down on a folded clump of bills– then I see who’s holding it, a friend, and realize she was only borrowing and am embarassed by my savage action– and let go and say, no, no, of course you take it.
I’m in a dingey downtown ann arbor bar chatting with people and being flirtatious and blithe when I drop a stray ember and something catches, the edge of my shoes and a bit of the bar carpet– and it spreads, jumps into an evergreen bush that’s growing there that has some tinder-dry undergrowth– and I scream, fire! fire! but no one’s really doing anything to help– I’m trying to put it out with my hands, but it keeps disappearing in one place and reappearing in another– like phantom flame, hiding from us each time we try to put it out– and I know the only answer would be drenching the whole thing, but there’s no water anywhere, and I feel responsible and guilty and keep patting at it with my hands until the tip of my leather glove catches.
I return to an old house I used to live in and where other people live now. I know my way along the hidden staircase and through the attics. I know the back entrances to the apartments, and I’m thinking how the students will be away for the holidays and that I can crash there for just one night in someone’s empty apartment– but once I’m inside, it all turns into a nightmare. people are home, and I’m forced into sneakiness and feel like a real trespasser– then it gets more complicated and scarier– I find that someone has been conducting experiments on animals in the basement, breeding monsters– and it becomes my mission to quarantine the place, lock all the doors from the outside– in effect trapping all the tenants inside, human and beast alike, until the authorities arrive on the scene. there is sickness and death, even amongh the people, and I have to take the part of the animals so they won’t be destroyed but instead rehabilitated, if possible. they’re ferocious ad yet victims of some dreadful custodian, who still, I know, wanders the free infrastructure of the house, the same secret back ways I use– I’m afraid of running into him, worried about the danger, but I never do.
we’re checking out the camp buildings, making sure they’re empty and clear, ticking them off one by one. then we’re working on the homework assignment we’ve been set– the instructions are confusing– there are several pages of questions we’re supposed to be writing responses to, and I finally figure out that the questions are numbered and there’s a complicated system wherein we’re supposed to write responses to so many number eights and so many number sixes and so on– an element of choice and freedom built in, but still a lot of writing to get done.
I go to a play along with a group of friends– that is, they’re the group of friends, and I’m going along with them– a distinction which becomes more evident as the event progresses– first there’s a seating awkwardness in which I start to sit in what I think is a free seat in the middle of the row only to realize it’s been invisibly earmarked for one of their inner circle as that person moves into it and I get a small odd look, like, yes? what can we do for you? so I move on down the row to the end but one– and then wonder if I should offer to switch so the end person can sit beside her friends– but the play is starting, so I sit quiet. the play turns out to be an annoying, insider, referential affair– the entire group I came with is laughing and eating it up, and all I can think is how bad and irritating it is. as soon as it ends, I abruptly tell the one sort-of friend who’d invited me in the first place that I’m going– and leave without bothering to explain myself to the others. then I’m walking through the neighborhoods of the city when I realized that I had driven to the even and feel bad for bailing– as if in compensation I’ve abandoned my own car and am walking the whole way on foot. it also turns out that I’ve put a wallet and things in my pockets to hold for one who didn’t have a bag or a pocket big enough and that I still have them and she has to come get them now– I think, it’s too bad, but what’s done is done.
there’s an enormous rock out in the desert with a great big old tree half rotten and filled with bees– we begin to set down on top of the bee tree rock and the bees start to fly up, and I say, I can’t do it— so instead we set down on top of a different enormous rock with a view in all directions and so large it has its own small topography of lumps and hollows. we poke around, scrape loose stone out of a hollow for a place to tuck things safe from wind and possible rain– it’s clear that others have camped here before, but who and when I have no idea.
I’ve gone to pick up paper for an art project and run into a guy I know from hmc– he’s been working on his own project, a punch & judy type puppet theater and its puppets– I feel daunted by how much more realized his artistic vision is than mine and how I’ll never catch up. I keep taking wrong turns inside the building and accidentally walk into a classroom where the students seem happy and engaged– they’re running the show– and as I turn right around and back out again in one smooth motion like a pirouette, I hear them laugh– not unkindly, just with good humor– behind me.
I’m helping laura move, carrying pieces of disassembled furniture down a flight of stairs when in my clumsiness and haste I hit another one of the people in the eye with the edge of a bed rail and rush down to check how bad it is– thankfully it’s his eyelid rather than the eye proper, and I say how phenomenally lucky we both are and how terribly sorry I am– he seems somewhat dazed and appalled– the damage is done, but the bottom line for me is that it could have been much worse, and so I’m grateful.
t. has been visiting, stopping briefly in my rooms on his way somewhere else– he’s preoccupied with preparing for his upcoming trip, and I begin to wonder to myself why I settle for these crumbs. after he’s left, I notice he’s been painting some object of his own and has left white smears on my nice table. earlier he’d left his backpack in the room, and I couldn’t seem to help myself from going through it and sneaking out three objects and secreting them away– after I’d left the room and gone on elsewhere, I thought better of it, regretted it, dreaded his finding out what I’d done by something I’d left different from how he’d had it– and I realized that would be the end of the trust and there was no time or way to go back and undo it.
I’m working in a call center and walk into a separate room only to find all the people on the phones working on other things while they talk to people on the other end of the line: rolling out cookie dough and knitting and an array of other handy projects, all the while handling the calls as normal. I’m jealous of the festive air of camaraderie in the air– the group activity seems somehow orchestrated toward a common goal– as christmas party or such.
I’m working a kitchen job I’ve left and come back to into an inferior position so that the people already working there have no idea of the position I held before and naturally go about their business with ease and authority. everything has changed since I worked there before– someone’s doing flour inventory and trying to figure out how much whole wheat to order, and I start to say, well, there’s one bag right h– but just then I realize they’ve switched the storage system, where things go, and I’m all thrown off, back into my newbie status again. after that I mostly hurry around the periphery and watch and keep quiet while the kitchen machine goes about its merry progress– fast fast fast, me scrambling to keep up.
there’s one tall young man I keep kind of ending up standing near, and I know he’s probably far too young for me but still drift out of the room after him and ask, so, scott, are you an undergrad? and he says, actually a grad student– I’m in… and then he gives a long number, and I say, ahh, the sciences. he says, yeah, and then the name of whatever it is. at this point we’re in a large scooped-out lecture hall with seats bolted into the floor. he asks, and you? followed by something that suggests I’m young– like, are you always the youngest person around? I sit down on a step nearby and say, actually, I’m older than I look– a good deal older than you, I’d wager. so he appraises me and says, how do you do it? I answer, redhead genetics, and feel at once sad and relieved that the truth is out.