Ordinary Day

Like so many parents, the impending opening (or not) of school looms over us. My 15-year-old is desperate to go. Every afternoon, picking her up from soccer practice, my friend and I stand in the parking lot, talking. As we share trivial and not-at-all trivial snippets in these few moments, I eye the sprawling brick high school, thinking, Really? How is any of this possible? Lumping teens together, here or in any other building? Does this make sense at all?

What my kid wants is clear — to hang with her friends, to rise up in a real challenge, to learn, to begin finding her forward to her own adult life. Basic stuff.

I’ve hit places of indecision in my life before, like when I uncoupled myself from a marriage. But now? My friend and I stand in collective indecision. Finished, our girls walk towards us in their cleats, sweatshirts slung over their shoulders, masks dangling from their hands. They’re looking at each other and at us, laughing, maybe making a joke about the two of us, or maybe simply happy in this sunny August afternoon, tired from practice and hungry for dinner.

My friend and I look at each other and remark on our girls’ happiness — thankfully. We lean against our cars, talking.

For this moment, there’s no school, no tomorrow, no next week, not even these past lonely months.

And because my mind works this way, I think of how a river turns when it meets an obstacle, never bullying forward, but shifting with the lay of the land. The lay of our land has changed.

The girls look at each other, giggling, and I’m suddenly sure they’ve been laughing at my friend and me. I’m utterly happy about that.

“Life is always rushing away from us.”

— Stephen Kiernan, Universe of Two

Evening Out — Of Sorts

A friend and I stand in the high school parking lot, watching our daughters finish soccer practice on the field. At least, I say as the girls walk towards us, laughing and talking, they’ve had one practice.

That’s where we are — maybe our world will fold up again tomorrow, but at least the girls had an afternoon together, running on the field on this sunny August day.

At dinner, I quickly realize the soccer team is angry about a school board position, and my daughter glares at me. I have a seat on the board; I listen to her complaint, and think, Let her be mad at the board.

I almost don’t head down the hill to Atkins Field, for the first reading I’ve attended in months, in a beautiful post-and-beam gazebo. A strong breeze blows up, threatening rain. There’s just over a dozen of us, bundled in jackets and blankets folks have pulled from their cars, sitting in lawn chairs. I’m regretting coming, when the author begins speaking. I’ve heard this author before — Stephen Kiernan — and loved his stories. Before coming, I knew nothing about his book, but as he begins speaking, I realize the book is about Los Alamos — a place I know. I put away my knitting, huddle into my chair, and listen.

The dusk comes down. Across the way, I see a single turkey vulture flying across dark clouds, its rising wing glossy with sunset as it struggles to fly into the wind.

At the very end, Kiernan reads the opening page of his book. Kiernan reads particularly well. Listening, for just a moment, I sense all these things coming together — the craziness of attending a reading spread out with masks, unable to whisper and giggle, the ever-present pandemic, but also the setting of Kiernan’s book — WWII — and how ordinary people have endured through terrible times, and we will, too. The chilly wind reminds us of autumn’s imminence, but for these moments, the beauty and power of Kiernan’s writing pulls us together.

And when I arrive home, my daughter is waiting for me on the porch, happy again to see me.

“I met Charlie Fish in the Chicago in the fall of 1943. First, I dismissed him, then I liked him, then I ruined him, then I saved him.”

— Stephen Kiernan, Universe of Two