If I could live anywhere, I’d like to live in Vermont. Or Virginia. (No, I’m not actually moving just yet.)
My original thought was Virginia. When L and I weren’t much younger, we had a momentary fascination with maps. I think it’s because Dad used to pull them out of National Geographic every time we got a new issue and post them to the bulletin board on our kitchen wall. So every month, or however often we received NatGeo in the mail, we would have a new terrain to look at…or completely ignore. Whichever suits you.
They always fell down, these maps. The board was long enough that you could knock whatever hung from it with your elbow if you sat in front of it. Also, we like to try tacking multiple papers at once under one thumbtack.
For some reason, we never have enough tacks. So the sheer weight of about five decent-sized pieces of paper got to be too much and every so often, there would be an avalanche of cards (both business and reminders), take-out menus, important government letters, and often a calendar.
After about a month or so of having a map on the board, Dad took the thing down. L and I managed to get our hands on it and took it into the porch. Sitting across from one another on the scratchy brown self-installed rug, we stared at it, marveling over the sheer size of the United States. Taking a penny in hand, L said, “Let’s close our eyes, drop the penny onto the map, and wherever it lands, we have to promise to go there someday.”
I went first. Admittedly, I think I dropped it purposely to land on “Virginia,” I said, shrugging. “Well, that’s good. I planned to go there anyway.”
I think L got Washington or something.
Virginia is packed with history. My intention? Get close to the original foundations of our country. The houses, the streets, the smells, the possible reenactments, the museums — all that fun stuff. Maybe I’ll actually learn a thing or two while I’m there. The only downside is it gets quite warm in the summer, so I’m not sure I could hold up well in that heat.
I say Vermont because it’s up north, and I like being in the north. I like the changing seasons, the good cold winters (even despite whining about this past one. In fairness, it was horrendous. Never again.), the syrup. I love syrup. I love pancakes. It’s a match made in heaven. That’s not a good enough reason to go, but okay. I’ll live. Just a visit would be nice.
Where would you like go travel and/or live that you aren’t right now?
We take our dogs for a walk around the streets near our house. For the most part, these trips are short, five or ten minutes at most if we just hop around the block. Sometimes we go to a small reservoir down the road from us, but that’s usually pretty ambitious for a weekday. So we tend to stick to one street and call it a night.
Most of the time, the street we take is nice. A few other houses have dogs that bark when you pass. They’re easy to ignore. Their lawns are patched with vibrant green and sun-baked brown colors. Every so often, someone’s outside. Occasionally, they’ll wave at you. More often than not, though, they don’t give you a passing glance.
Then there’s our neighbor Dom. Of the people you want to avoid in life, he’s one of them.
An older man with a hunch to his back and wrinkles so deep, the shadows around his eyes are almost dark gray, Dom doesn’t like people. Specifically, he doesn’t like anyone who doesn’t have a dog. Since his neighbors to the immediate right of his house don’t have one, he gives them hell for no logical reason. (His most recent offence was trying to rip down a fence because he claimed it was on his property line. It wasn’t.)
His house, deep brown with black shutters, is as dark as the bags under his eyes. His street lights are never on at Halloween. For that one night of the year, kids practically walk in the street because the shadow where his house is stands so tall, you could almost fall into it and get swallowed up. It’s like a black hole of empty space.
If you walk by him during the day, he stares after you until you walk away. If you have a dog with you, he tries to make conversation that’s difficult to get out of. He has a small dog himself, one that he carries on walks so that it doesn’t get fleas.
For most of the walk, things go smoothly. The dogs tug too much at the start, only to stop short for a sniff and a piss. Tess has to walk at the front. Beau lumbers on after her, but when he stops, he’s a wall. You can push and push and push, but if he doesn’t choose to go anywhere, he won’t. (Hound/German Shepherd mixes are like that, apparently.)
Three-fourths of the way through, all talking and dog-heckling stops. We tighten our leashes. Our eyes go to the ground, or fix at some far point on the horizon. We march.
We enter Dom’s property.
One time, I’m on my own with Tess and I see him hovering over something in his driveway. Panic rattles my back and my chest gives me a quick squeeze, like my body’s trying to give me a hug. Balling up the leash in my fist, I tugged the dog along the sidewalk, averting my eyes to the ground.
“C’mon, c’mon, stop sniffing everything,” I mutter through clenched teeth as she stops to nose the concrete where it meets the grass.
Don’t look at the driveway, I tell myself. Don’t look behind you. Don’t make eye contact. If he knows you’ve seen him, he’ll start a conversation.
After a second, Tess complies. We walk three steps. She pulls to a stop, yanking me back where I’ve started fast-walking forward. Sweat builds in my armpits. We’re only halfway across the yard.
Don’t look behind you. Don’t make eye contact.
“Come on, dog,” I say louder, giving the leash a tug. She strains against the force, tightening the soft, braided red rope around my knuckles until we’re each leaning comically in opposite directions. Her dirty gray nails dig into the ground as she snuffs something out of her nose.
“Come on!” I say. “Tess!”
Like a springboard, she snaps to and her tongue lolls out.
“Thank you,” I whisper while she clicks down the sidewalk ahead of me. I pull out my phone and fiddle with the music, trying to make it seem like I’ve gotten a call.
I only breathe again when we leave the property. Throwing a glance over my shoulder, I see Dom moseying down his driveway, his dog in his arms and his face turned in our direction. I mutter in incoherent, illogical Spanish under my breath, hoping he’ll think I’m crazy and not know what I’m saying. I sure as hell don’t.
The farther we go, the more often I look back. Dom turns, walks the other way. Across the street and two houses down from where he lives, a Golden Retriever named Friday is sitting in his own yard. As Dom approaches, Friday barks, but I hustle Tess forward. We still have one leg of the journey to go, and all I can think is, We have to reach our end of the street before Dom does.
“Come on, Tess, we can do this,” I say. I’m fast-walking now. The wind hurts my nose, but my chest opens up a bit more. There’s still the fear that he’ll catch up to us in time to talk, but we’re moving. We’re fast.
We reach the end of the street, one that connects to ours and the same one Dom’s going to appear around, I just know it, and Tess stops. She shoves her nose into the dirt in front of another dog’s house, snuffling.
“Oh my god!” I tug her harder, with both hands. “Come on, Tess, it’s time to go home.”
She relents for a second, shuffles forward, noses the dirt. Inches pass beneath us. Every so often, I tip my head furtively around the block, but the street stays empty, the sky blue with dots of puffy clouds overhead.
“Come!” I command in a hard voice.
She jumps to attention. Scurrying down the road, we race back to the house and slam the door closed. No Dom, no weird interactions, nothing. From behind the safety of the door, I almost can’t believe myself. With a little laugh, I unclip Tess from her leash.
We made it.
Are there people you tend to avoid around your neighborhood? What do you do when you run into them?
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Mom’s always told me it’s easier to be negative than positive, be critical than be kind, think of bad thoughts than think of good thoughts…you get the idea. It’s been easy for me to be critical and see the problems with self-image as they stem from subtle places. The fact that it’s harder to see the good, especially in myself when I’m a horrid critic, means I probably should try.
Here it goes:
My favorite part of my body are my hands. I’ve gotten to be a relatively quick typer when I’m not covering my keyboard in its protective purple…thing. (Amazon calls them skins.) If I’m not working on the train, I tend to take the keyboard skin off and I can go pretty fast, especially if I’m in the middle of a good part in my story.*
Sure, when it’s cold, I think my hands look like super skinny sausages. They also feel icy to the touch in winter. But in summer, they plump up nicely with the heat.
I wear two rings, both with gold settings (gold is a much warmer color than silver, so it’s what I prefer, otherwise my hands look cold) and both from my parents. The bigger ring — from Mom, a citrine birthstone that she gave to me on my sixteenth birthday — slides around my finger and it’s fun to play with if I’m nervous. The smaller is a Claddagh ring my dad got me for my birthday. It’s a real pain to take off, since I’ve worn it ever since I got it, but I don’t mind. My hand looks nice with them on.
What’s your favorite part of your body?
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My brother and I started off as friends. We grew to be best friends, possibly in response to the births of Big and Little H, and then that weird thing happened where we got to high school and he got taller.
“Actually, I’m the older one.” I started saying this line so many times that I’d probably be rich if I got paid every time I used it.
At the same time, high school changed the dynamic we’d had. He stopped being my brother. Instead, I became “L’s sister” and under that title, people — from teachers to other students — looked from him to me, instead of from me to him.
Of the two of us, he’s the charismatic one. He’s warm and welcoming, inviting other people to join in his discussions. He always seemed to be at the center of his friend group. People gravitated towards him.
circa…the early 90′s
He also wasn’t failing math the way I was, and I considered anyone who did well in math to be above average (read: my) intelligence. I believed that meant people liked him for good reasons. I also believed that those reasons meant he emulated everything I wasn’t, but I wouldn’t admit that to anyone.
Then, without warning, we grew apart. He became a foreign kid. His world and mine were separate. I graduated high school feeling like we were siblings without any connection.
“Should I be doing that?” I asked Mom the first time I brought it up.
She gave me a look. “How many people do you know who’ve moved out already?”
“A few,” I said. But my first thoughts went to people I only knew through blogs. They weren’t actual friends, but people whose lives I was admiring from afar. “L moved out,” I added when I felt the conversation drifting out of my control.
“He didn’t have a choice,” Mom said, blowing it off. “He had to find housing because the school wouldn’t provide it after freshman year.” A little later, she said, “If you feel like moving out, then don’t feel like you have to stick around for my sake.”
Her saying that angered me. She’d missed the point.
While I read this stuff, I listen to L tell Mom what’s happening to him.
I listen to him tell her about different patrons at work and how ridiculous some of their requests are. I listen to him tell her about his friends’ struggles and how logical he was being about their realities, as opposed to telling them what they want to hear. I listen to him outline his goals and ambitions, and how they compare with those of the people around him.
L comes home more often now. Little H and I don’t talk about him like we used to — about how Mom gets wicked excited when he comes home, or when he calls, and how she’ll only really talk to him when he’s over.
He and I talk more often. He’ll come to my work to pick up things and chat. We’ll share gripes over Mom and her obsession with cats, or dogs, or the things she says that make us shake our heads. We share stories about work, art, culture, social dynamics, politics, the news, friends. We connect in our triumphs and pitfalls.