9pm, heading home from pub trivia at a busy spot near my office. Down on the metro platform, the orange line train pulls in. Only six stops to my station. I’ll be walking the dog by 9:30.
The doors slide open onto a car bubbling with chatter. Summer in DC, the weekend lasts all week. Between nuzzling couples and clusters of young people, a few wilted office drones slouch and sleep. I take one of the few unoccupied seats. Bar hoppers stream out around me.
He takes up a row. Briefcase on its side next to the window, legs splayed, foot halfway into the aisle. As I settle into a corner perpendicular across the car, he catches my eye. I ignore him, pull out my journal and start writing.
The sensation a prickle, a tiny persistent sting against scalp and skin.
Eyes like a growling. Eyes like a treasure box. Storefront reflection, candid photograph, inverted glint on spectacle glass.
Eyes tethering me to corporeality.
They write their stories on my body. Make their confessions on my body. Cast the runes and decode the signs and plan their fortune on my body. Ink the map of their nightmares on my body. X the spot of their rescue on my body.
The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.
– Yann Martel, Life of Pi
A handful of friends and neighbors gathered for a second time. We got together in my living room to share ideas and support each other in our efforts to become more politically active.
Our first meeting took place in early February. We kicked off with drive and energy and a fury of commitment. In the intervening six weeks, our national disaster escalated and many of us lost momentum. Speaking candidly with friends and peeking into my own heart, I notice that many are experiencing the outrage fatigue we predicted. The Republican administration continues to throw all its might into dismantling regulation, research, democratic checks, civil liberties, protection of the commons, and social safety nets. Those of us committed to these institutions as well as to the values that undergird them have lost our sense of direction. How do we respond when everything is a crisis?
First we admit the sense of loss.
Then we remember that these power mongers win if they paralyze us, so we must keep moving.
The women arrive carrying ceramic bowls of muffins and popcorn. They introduce themselves and shrug out of winter coats, peel the backs off name tags, jot words on green post-its and find seats around the room.
We set up the easel, the flip chart, the clipboards, the jar full of pens.
We share our names, our role models in the movement, the things that make us smile.
Itzhak Perlman was riding shotgun when the October moon slid out onto the horizon. The soloist’s strokes teased from the slimmest strings the opening notes of Beethoven’s violin concerto. Other players followed and a rumble rose from deep in the bouts of cello and bass, swelling to a roar and thundering through my ribs, pressing out the tears. The stoplight was seconds from green so I pressed back. It took some effort. It took my breath.
The moon lay herself down in a hammock of treetops and followed us with her sleepy gaze.
Across town, a young writer of mysteries saw her too. What echoed across the dusk to his ears was Don McLean’s “Vincent,” at least the opening verse. His song reached in through the passenger side window and wound around the Berlin Philharmonic. I pulled into a jammed parking lot. They grabbed their instruments by the neck and careened off together, streaking light across the purple sky.
The friend says the pressure to love her body is too much. “Isn’t it enough to not hate it?” This is what we are supposed to do as women. It’s yet another thing to add to the list. Love ourselves. Love our bodies exactly as they are.
That word, love. It covered my notebooks in junior high, markers and hearts. As a teenager, those four letters grew far too big for crushes. They became like currents sweeping the earth in a gusting flourish, ecstasy and aspiration with a peace sign woven into the O.
The tropospheric ribbon of script I tattooed across my days was a declaration of protest. It was a way to give voice, unformed as it was, to an infant movement. A confederacy of truth was gathering, and it was growing skeptical, maybe downright mutinous, of the dogma that ordered my inner life.
Poor as sin, a bottle of wet, two friends dead. A man outside her window. Wallet on the car floor, wheels spitting asphalt, WaWa bathroom, brown tile walls. Lady pushes her girl into the stall, “You go even if you don’t have to.”
First book with chapters: Sweet Valley High. Which one, all the same. Skin dry, skin slick, so pretty before but realized it too late, that’s always the story. She borrows makeup from a friend, color off. Friend is a generous term. They had been small enough to fit on the same block. Once. Adults now, those girls, dulled but also steady. Selective memory to fill gaps.
New shoes she didn’t buy. Two quarters and a dime, a pack of gum gone soft, the name of the baby they took or she gave, who remembers. The recipe for making him stay, the back of a stained receipt, a language she learned to whisper but never to speak. Paycheck stub, proof of value, plastic troll with hair, once blue.