Thursday, March 31, 2016

Marriage

photo by Emma Theresa

It is a promise with a signed piece of paper and a ceremony of spoken words and kissing mouths.

Let's share life together. 

If you are sick, I am retrieving hot lemon tea, blankets and bowls of stew. If you are well, I am grateful and we are flushing our faces with vigorous walks and dining room dancing. If you are sad, I am lending you my shoulder and shirt sleeve and taking you to fields, mountain tops, or the seaside for better breathing, for healing. If you are happy, I am happy and saying it; smiling it; singing it! If you are poor, I am hungry, filthy and collecting change from between the couch cushions. If you are wealthy, I am well-dressed, full-bellied and safely, sweetly sheltered. 

We have been begging my brother for so long.  Please marry that beautiful, sweet girl. Call her wife for the rest of your life and we will worry less and we will love you more, because you will not have lost that beautiful, sweet girl ---the girl with the biggest heart in town, the potter, the singer and the baker with the best pie around.  ---We all secretly fear her flight, but try not to start fights. He is thoughtful, careful, wise, but stubborn and whenever marriage is mentioned, he is quick to quiet us with his heavier quiet, saying or implying that he is committed! --two cats committed! --years and years of devotion committed!

Last Friday night, my family gathers for an early Easter dinner. When my husband and I walk in with our daughter, my brother and his girlfriend give my seven-month-old and her cousin picture books about bunnies, springtime and painted eggs. Then they hand cards to my sister and I, cards asking if our girls, their nieces, might like to be their baby flower girls ...because they are getting married! Would we all like to attend their little wedding ceremony in the sun of early June, two months from now? And would I like to officiate? YES! Anything you want! YES! This is the happiest news! We are cheering and drinking champagne and laughing and hugging!

I want to say "I do" because I do love you and I do love this life with you. Because now that I have it and know it, to not have it and to no longer know it, would be unbearable. I choose you and you choose me, so let's put it in writing for anyone and everyone to see! 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

This Simple Little Life
















I met Scott when he was 18. I was 19. Since then, I have witnessed his coming-of-age story. I lived beside it, inside it. He saw me and mine too in all my embarrassing, troubled glory.

He is a man now of 31 years. I am a woman of 32. We are dearest friends, life partners, bed mates, roommates, dinner dates. He is the father now. I am the mother. Amelia is the child, our doughy daughter with whom we are helplessly in love. He and I are married, have been for 6 years and 6 months now. We have a dog. Her name is Penny. She looks like a German Sheppard puppy, but she is not German, nor a Sheppard, nor a puppy. She is a mix, Norwegian Elkhound and Collie, we presume, and she’s nearly 8-years-old. To him, she is “the cheapest best friend [he] ever bought.” To me, she is my walking company, my home security system, my pain in the ass, and my sweet cuddle love. Scott has a career in a grocery store and beige tortoise-shell glasses. Our closet is full of his plaid shirts and folded solid color tees. He has white in his reddish-brown beard and combed-back hair and a hole in his jeans that I couldn’t quite mend. I am presently without a career, home with baby getting some extensive professional development in child rearing. I have stretchy pants, long sweaters and one denim shirt shoved into bins at the bottom of our closet. I have two pairs of boots and one pair of blue rimmed glasses. I have strands of white hair hiding in the bristles of my brown bangs and I always have a jar of drinking water nearby. He is an improvisational comedian and teacher. He likes to play video games and go to the movies and make up silly baby songs. I like to write and make big bowls of salad and crusty homemade bread. He likes Science Fiction, comic book heroes and Steven King novels. I like memoire, literary magazines and books about food. I like to hike. He likes his gold framed bike. We both play guitar and howl folk songs and take our coffee with cream.

He loves me and I love him and that is a perfect truth.

We started dating when I was 20 and he was 19. One night, I wept in bed because I realized then that we might not make it ---that we probably wouldn’t. Something, I didn’t know what, would separate us, splitting our newly trampled path into two narrow, solitary paths. ---I believe, nowadays, any 20-year-old who finds herself in a tremendous romance would agree that it is scary. We are not yet grown at 20. There is still so much to live through, an ocean of time, sprawling and stormy, open for all sorts of tragedy.

But when I was 22 and he was 21, our first big decision waved us down from where it stood in the middle of an intersection.  Surrounded by paper maps with creases; highway lines; blotches of ink for capital cities; bold state boundaries and bodies of water, it forced us to ask: Where do we want to go after we graduate college?

I wanted to move to Boston. Scott wanted to move to Chicago. So we compromised and moved to Queens, New York City.

After that, we always wanted to move to the same place.

Let’s move to Boston.

                                     Okay!

Western Massachusetts?

                                    Yeah!

Chicago?                                      

                                   That’d be fun!

Time to return to Massachusetts?

                                  Yes, please!

And now, all these 14 years later, the 10th place we will move to together will be our first house. We are moving to a converted old summer camp where conservation forests sprawl speckled with lakes, black bears, elk, birds, pines, maples, and firs. The inspector found a leak in the shower, but the carpenter and the plumber have both confirmed that it is an easy, inexpensive fix. We sign the papers in May.

Yesterday, I potted plastic pots with organic soil and seeds: lemon balm, basil, kale, chard, dill, wild flowers, parsley, thyme, lettuce, and tomatoes. This summer they will sit on our porch in the shady sunshine, birthing vegetables and edible herbs and pretty porcelain pots of posies. I have a bowl of sourdough starter bubbling on the kitchen table. I have diapers in the wash. I have the ingredients to make a coconut cake for Easter. I have to take the compost out back. I take my showers after baby is sleeping and keep my library books by the bed. I have lots of leafy plants to water and tend to, dog hair to vacuum, and spoons, pots and plates to pluck from the dish strainer and pile in the cabinets and on the counter tops.  I seek out these tasks. They are not insignificant chores, but purposeful work that make for a clean, happy home. I am grateful for this simple little life of mine. My people are healthy, fed and clean. We are fortunate.

We are still trampling upon this path we've made. We haven't split and we haven't strayed. It's a bit wider now with Penny marking every turn. And since baby is strapped to me in her carrier, we have to be a bit more careful, avoiding brambles, raised roots, and poison ivy. Soon, though, she'll be running ahead. And one day, our path will fork into paths. She'll follow one and we'll continue on the other. It'll be close to ours. We'll still be able to see her through the trees, but hopefully by then she will be prepared, ready for independence and perhaps even her own tremendous romance.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Paper House








It is a paper house. Paper walls with paper paint, paper fixtures, a paper pellet stove, paper stairs, paper porch, paper floor, paper toilet, and paper cabinets. Paper planting pots I fill with paper soil, paper water and paper seeds. Paper windows. Paper shingles on a paper roof. Paper doors. A paper house surrounded by paper trees, paper dirt paths, and reached by paper feet or paper tires down a narrow paper road.

I have already stood in a store, building my paper home out of paper paint swatches, mostly warm blues and earthy olive greens. I have a book of paper pages on hold at the library about growing a vegetable and herb garden in a small space (my paper porch with paper pots, soil and seeds). And I have already drawn pencil pictures on paper of the bookshelves I want to build.

It isn’t our home. It isn’t even our bank’s house. It is still the seller’s brick, wood, iron, glass and plaster. We are just potential paper buyers, paying invisible paper money to keep the other potential paper buyers away. Dibs is all we really have.

Monday morning, the inspector’s screwdriver goes through the ceiling of the laundry room and sticks there. Below it, a bucket sits on the floor, empty but no less suspicious. It is an old bathroom leak, we are told. It was resolved last year, or rather, thought to have been resolved last year. Now the plaster is soft and the wood might be rot. A plumber and a carpenter are called. We shall see what they say.

I imagine standing in the shower as it cracks away from the walls and breaks through the floor like a detached elevator, landing in the laundry room with a hard, wet thud. This could mean a new bathroom with a claw foot porcelain tub! Though, this could also mean that we tear up this paper house and the paper dreams we have drawn with it and we keep searching these paper towns for a place to call home.



Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Typewriter Shop

I slide a quarter into the parking meter where I inherit 7 minutes, leaving me with 37 to walk a block, go in a shop, take a peek, and turn around ---should be plenty of time. I take baby into my arms and strap the carrier around us, grab my wallet and shove my keys into a pants pocket.

I push open the door to the typewriter shop. It sticks a little.

Lining long, shallow shelves and gathered in groups on the floor are typewriters: green, black, yellow, baby blue, gray, brown typewriters. Some are manual metal antiques with circle keys held up by slender silver pipes, sitting on tweed, leather or canvass cases. Others are electric typewriters with modern modest keyboards that hide their parts behind plastic panels. There are also land line telephones and a couple used computers.

An old, black man with nails for fixing ribbons, letter keys, rollers, levers and knobs, leans to the side of his chair when we enter and asks how I'm doing.

I'm well, and how is he?

...Could be better. Nobody’s out. No customers around.

Must be afraid of the rain. I say.

It’s just him and me in the quiet shop so I tell him what I’m looking for: an inexpensive typewriter, one under $100, if such a thing exists.

He shrugs. I'm not the first person to ask this question. Many pass through his shop, he tells me, then go and buy a cheap, often broken typewriter off the internet. Then they bring it to him in pieces, after trying to fix it themselves.  

I remember the time I took apart a bicycle and couldn’t put it back together again, but I don’t mention it.

He tells me: with typewriters, the older it is, the more expensive it is.

Because they’re antique, I chip in, to prove I'm not entirely ignorant.

I tell him that I’m a writer. That I have my work on the internet, but that I’d really like more freedom with the placement of my words and I’d like to stamp it onto soft paper then hold it in my hands. I want the inky texture a typewriter provides. We talk about the difference between paper and screens, computer printers and typewriters, and buying from him rather than some stranger through the mail.

Amelia watches him and looks at the shapes and colors of his merchandise. She fusses a little, belches, spits up a little. The phone rings and he excuses himself. I walk around, telling myself how I should stop wasting his time, that I should leave since I can’t afford one anyway. Oh hi doctor... he has a customer at the moment… the call ends and I tell him I went to college in town about ten years ago, passed the shop many times, but never went in. Was he the owner back then?

Oh yeah, he’s been here since the 70s.

The best he can do is this Olympia. It's a fine machine. The ribbon lasts a long time, very  high quality. Today, he could offer it to me for $175 without the case. Offer for today only. He can’t do much lower or his wife will give him a hard time. He’s got bills. He tells me. But he also needs to make a sale. Because he’s got bills. I want to buy it. For me. For him. This is my trouble with small shops. I want to support them even if it means I won’t be able to support myself. Four days ago we had an offer accepted on our first house. Money is tight as an elastic band wrapped around a hairy wrist. I should not be paying $175 for a tool I don’t need, a toy. Suddenly, though, with a fidgeting baby on my hip and sweat and steam causing a sort of storm inside my denim jacket, I say, ok let's get it. I start to feel a little dizzy then. Still I don’t back down or bow out, instead I ask if he takes checks. He’ll take a check, yeah. Cash or check. He puts the Olympia on the counter and begins showing me all its features. The margins, the roller lever, the ….I don’t know. By this point I’m just trying to sound like I’m listening and remembering and understanding all that he’s teaching me, but really I’m freaking out, wondering how horrible and strange it would be if I just turned and ran out of there with my wallet, baby and the balled up paper towel he’s given me to wipe the spit up from my shoulder. What stops me is knowing that if I turn and sprint through the shop’s sticky door, I’ll never return and I’d like to. I want to buy one of these fine typewriters. I want come back without baby, pick one out, pay in cash and take notes as his fingers press and flip and turn all the levers and rollers and knobs. I want to buy one. I just shouldn’t right now.

He goes around to the other side of the counter and pulls out his carbon copy pad of sales slips.

“I think I'm having a panic attack.” I tell him, breathing fast and reaching for the counter to steady myself. I tell him about the house. That I'm not working. That I don’t want a fight with my husband who might not appreciate the timing of this large purchase.

He understands. He had his first panic attack when he was in his 60s, or was it, the 1960s…(I’m too disoriented to remember later). He was on an airplane and after it landed, everyone stood up, but his seat was in the back so he couldn’t leave right away. He understands, he tells me again. He looks at baby and baby smiles and he smiles and makes mention of her two little teeth.

I will buy one and when I do, it will be from him. I say. I ask him his name. He’s Bob. I tell him my name is Rachel. He asks me the baby’s name and when he says, “Amelia”. She looks at him and smiles another smile. I really like him, I tell him (to prove, I guess, my allegiance) and his shop and I’ve really enjoyed talking to him. I will buy a typewriter from him, maybe in a month or two. I promise. He's still smiling. He understands.

When we get back to the car, 1 minute remains on the meter. Baby and I look up. Drops of rain wet our flushed faces. I pull breath up like a bucket from a deep well. My heart pounds from relief and disappointment. There’s no reason to rush this. I tell myself. I will stamp my words onto soft paper soon enough.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Want to live at summer camp?



We visit the A-Frame house at the edge of the conservation forest this morning. It is located in a village, a summer camp of cottages long since converted into year-round homes. There is a playground, an outdoor sanctuary, a performance space and a screened dining hall for the occasional potluck. There is a community garden, outdoor checkers, black bear scares, pine trees, babies, dogs and retirees. There are hundreds of acres of hiking trails for trampling and exploring and it’s just 3 miles from the center of our city. We were once quite skeptical of this place of close quartered cottages. From the road, it looks, well, dilapidated. But this house seems different. Along the narrow stone road, there are houses with chipping paint and cracked wood and stained siding with windows wrapped in plastic for winter warmth, but there are also big, luxurious houses on the hill and ones that have that hip, economically tiny house look. The A-Frame is at the far edge of the village where the road turns into a walking path, it’s the one with the doors painted yellow.

We had written a list of features we hoped to find in a home and now I am wondering how the A-Frame holds up to our penciled fantasy.

  • At least ½ acre of land: No/YES… (no individual land because it’s considered shared, but there is a lot to share in the park and the park’s 9-acres of conservation land as well as another much larger conservation area behind it, which includes hundreds of acres and a 40-acre lake.)
  • 1000-1600 square feet: More! –but not too much more. (1771 square feet)
  • Bathtub: NO! Just a shower…but it’s a large square shower, one big enough for our plastic baby bathtub and eventually, showering a toddler.
  • 3 bedrooms: YES! Not technically, but yes.
  • 1 mile from town: No, but close....
  • Pellet or Woodstove: YES! A pellet stove!
  • Move–in ready: Yes! Though it needs a mop, a sponge and some buckets of paint. 
  • Less than $190,000: YES! The asking price currently is $179,000.
  • Easthampton or Northampton: Yes!
  • Newer roof: Yes! 6 years old.
  • Open Floor Plan: Yes!
  • Nice neighborhood: Yes!
  • Conservation land/trails: THE BIGGEST YES!

We like the house.

“Want to live at summer camp?” Scott asks me.

I think I do...!

This house has a monthly condo fee, which pays for snow removal, grass
cutting, tree maintenance and the upkeep of community areas and buildings.
We drive to the bank in the rain. I sit in the car with a sleeping baby and my thoughts, while Scott puts a quarter in the meter and runs in to ask our loan officer if we can afford it. A few minutes pass and he returns to tell me that they can’t lend us as much because of the monthly fee. It’s not entirely hopeless, however, he tells me. We might be able to make it work.

We schedule another showing for Saturday so that our parents can come and tell us in person if they think moving to summer camp is a horrible idea.

Saturday morning, baby wakes me at 6a.m. I lift her out of bed, remove her wet diaper, snap on a dry one and carry her to the kitchen. She sits on the blue and white rug surrounded by pillows, playing, while I fold laundry and sip black tea with honey. She eats a little breakfast in her high chair: rice cereal and pureed sweet potatoes. She chomps and gulps at the water from her jelly jar, her two and a half teeth clinking against the glass. Scott gets out of bed, checks his phone for messages, kisses us good morning, dresses and takes the dog out. I try to nurse and get baby to nap, but she hardly sleeps so when he gets back, Scott makes the pot of coffee, oatmeal and boils some eggs and I put baby in the bouncy seat so that I can wash my face and find my jeans.

My parents arrive and soon after giving them hugs and kisses and mugs of coffee with cream, I am delivering a firm warning.

“The house is not in a normal neighborhood. It’s kind of weird. Picture a trailer park but with houses instead of trailers.” I tell them.

We cram into the car. Dad’s knees touching the dash; Mom and I squeezing beside the babyseat in the backseat; Scott driving. When we get there and pass the other cottages, my parents aren’t alarmed. At the house, Scott’s mother and father are there. Our realtor is there too.

When we enter the house, no one really says anything and I can almost hear the saliva squeezed from their tongues as they bite to silence their first impressions.

Then,

“A little paint and a good clean!”

“You could hire someone to refinish the floors.”

“Maybe you could put a bathroom upstairs between the bedrooms.”

They’re optimistic. They see the charm and potential, but mostly, I think they see how much we like it.

The floors are dusty and faded. The paint is chipping in places and there are cobwebs in most corners. Renters reside here currently with two pretty cats. I can imagine this as our home. Amelia learning how to climb those stairs. Sitting for dinner beside the glowing pellet stove. Gardening in pots on the porch. ---I couldn’t really picture us in the first house where we made an offer. I could imagine us in the yard building a vegetable garden and walking to town for coffee and cake, but inside the house, it was too sprawling, too boring to inspire me. It was a logical house for us. Not really an emotional one. --- But this A-Frame at the end of the lane conjures feelings of nostalgia ---as if I were an old lady already, with a crinkling photo album on my lap. It’s us. The exposed pine, the proximity of the forest, all the shelves and cabinets and the big windows. How it’s close to town and close to the woods. It’s the one. I’m sure of it.

I write a letter to the owners of the house. It will go with our offer. It is mostly like my first letter for the first house, but the specifics are re-written.

I want to tell you why we’d love to live in that adorable A–frame cottage of yours, the one with the three floors of rustic rooms, colossal closets and that feeling that you’re in the middle of the deep woods, even though the house is within a unique village.

We send the letter and our first offer of $165,000 to our realtor who passes it on to the seller’s agent.

Late afternoon Sunday, we get word. They very much like our letter, but feel $165,000 is just too low. They send along a list of other homes in the village that have recently sold and for how much. They counter at $175,500.

I draw numbers to add and subtract and circle and discuss. Hypothetical scenarios and the reality join us at the table in our little apartment. Scott makes a decadent pot of beef stew and we devour two bowls each with skinny glasses of frothy stout, while the baby sleeps. They probably expect us to meet them in the middle, counter with $170,000, but it’s been on the market for over 200 days; it is in this little campground condo village; it has renters and it needs paint, floor refinishing and the bathroom and kitchen could use some work.

The next morning, Amelia wakes us by pulling at our face skin and squealing. I change her and put the kettle on. Baby and I sit on the floor playing until Scott gets up. Then we dress and strap the baby into the carrier and the dog into the harness and head to the river for a long walk.

We talk about how we’re most comfortable offering $169,000. There’s some tipping point between $169,000 and $170,000 for us. For whatever reason, that $1,000 makes a big difference in our monthly payments. Our loan officer wrote it all out for Scott the other morning. If they’re willing to sell the house at $170,000 (we are guessing and hoping), then maybe they’d agree to sell it for $169,000. We weigh every possible outcome. What if we lose it? Is that ok? It is. We have time and patience. What if we get it? Is that what we want? It is! So we decide to do it. To go with our gut.

Scott writes the email with our final offer of $169, 000.

"Should I send it?"

"Send it!"

A couple hours later, while Scott is in the shower, our realtor calls his phone. I’m across the room with sleeping Amelia on my lap and I listen while it bleeps with a new voicemail. Scott stops the water. I tell him who has just called.

“I’m lathering up! I’ll be out in a minute!”

“You’re killing me!” I tell him.

His soapy hands squeak and shush as he laughs and lathers. The water is turned back on for the rinse. When he gets out and towels off, he goes to play the message, but before he can, I say,

"We got it!"

Our realtor has just emailed me.

“We can have it for $169,000!”

Scott and I shake hands and squeal as silently as we can, but the baby wakes and looks around with her big sleepy blue eyes and smiles back at us so we tell her the big news, that we’re going to be moving to a house, a whole house just for us! My heart feels like a balloon filling with helium. We did it! We gambled and won! We’re going to be homeowners!