At a baseball game at the high school, my friends and I talk about the shape of the evening clouds. The high school has a view of Buffalo Mountain. Behind it, the sun goes down.
I’m late to the game, finishing a book I’m reviewing and answering a handful of emails. When I arrive, I stand back for a bit, watching my younger daughter and her friends who are sitting by the side, apart but not that much apart, their hair piled on their heads, talking and laughing. There’s nothing new here — talking is the lifeblood of teen girls — but that world seems so rare in our world these days. — Go be a kid, swap stories, figure out your place in the world — the pulse of adolescence.
As the sun lowers and I keep talking with my friends, I keep glancing at these girls, their eyes full of sparks and joy, for this evening, these hours, this very moment.
Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places. It was possible Americans would do noting about the fissures exposed by the pandemic: the racial inequalities, the poisonous partisanship, the governmental incompetence, the disrespect for science, the loss of standing among nations, the fraying of community bonds. Then again, when people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.
As I’m finishing a book about, essentially, pain, maybe it’s fitting that I undergo my own particular pain experience.
In the oral surgeon’s chair, as he came at my face with a small, extremely sharp blade, he paused for a moment and said I was welcome to watch, but I likely wanted to close my eyes. I definitely closed my eyes. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to open my eyes. Almost immediately, my mouth was suffused with salty, rich blood: the taste of the sea and the earth.
While allowing my mouth and those stitches time to repair, I read Chanel Miller’s gorgeous book — this young woman known as Emily Doe, who was assaulted on the Stanford campus. Her book is filled with food — chocolate and pork dumplings — and begonias, with love of rain falling on skin and a young woman’s excitement about living in a city, but also filled with bodily pain and the complexity of living in a female body in America.
Of all the books I read this year, this author is likely my most favorite, this young woman who took this unasked-for experience, endured, and turned it into strength for so many other women.
Her victim impact statement that initiated the book can be read here.
I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm… Stay tender with your power.
When I was 20, I taught myself how to adjust the valves on an even-then ancient Volkswagen bug. My millennial daughter, in contrast, takes great pleasure in hoisting her kayaks on her roof racks, showing up the quarreling boys beside her who wrestle with their rowboat.
On a Monday morning of a week that will end in August, the last of our Vermont summer months, hurray for young muscles. I’ll breathe in some of your good cheer.