This is the girl in the red dress who took the blue pill wondering if she has hit an all-time information overload. The download is complete. The deed has been done. The air swirls with cigarette smoke and the figures are obscured but it is evident that the players squatting at this chess board are the same as those previously encountered. She coughs, she sits, she orders a martini, dry, with blue cheese olives because when there isn't time to be particular, why shouldn't she be particular? She has dignity, after all, beneath the swaying lights, the coughing and the sounds of freight trains rumbling over the tracks.
Or are they?
The voices compete with one another for the scant oxygen in the room. They seem to be uttering the same words, but with differing vocabularies. Some are smarter than others. Some just like to show off. Some have accents and are sickly with phlegm. Some have been at the party for too long that they forgot about the chess game.
She makes her move, takes one sip of her drink and leaves, squeezing both sides of her head. Whether to keep her thoughts intact or to keep out others' voices isn't clear, even to her, but she has to run, to move to escape. She breaks a heel. She rips her stockings. She has started to discover the depths of this rabbit hole and where she sees darkness, others see desperation and empty buildings.
This is the girl in the red dress who likes to read, but has no time for she is either transporting herself somewhere else, or trying to squeeze each moment into something that it is not. A moment passes, after all. But when there are finite number of moments left, and only a certain amount of moves she can make, it is wise to stretch this non-linearity of time.
Or is it?
There's a huge pine tree out in the backyard. It dominates the area, and looks to be as large as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, although I know that isn't possible. They use a Norwegian pine, after all; an initial gift of goodwill from one government to the next. Still, our tree is large, and I can barely see the top. It's lower limbs are twisted just enough to tempt smaller limbs onto them. But this tree is a bit too spiky and ornery from climbing.
We stood outside in the snow and the cold, chatting, and you excitedly looked at the tree and declared you'd string lights all over it, creating a sparkling source of wonder. And perhaps a little of New York City too. In the backyard. You said it reminded you of The Tree, and if there was any way you could cover it in lights you would. Your face shone as if glowing by these lights and I laughed, emboldened by a few cocktails, and I ran circles in the backyard in the fresh snow. A pioneer, landing on the moon. Walking on the moon. But my prints would be erased and pine needles would fall into them sooner, rather than later. Smaller footprints would obliterate any patterns that I created, whilst also trying to follow in my oversized - to them - footsteps. You were determined to put lights on that tree, and your mind was working as to how, what colors and when.
The evenings are growing lighter, and the pine tree is silhouetted by the grey sky for just a bit longer each evening now. Sometimes, the sunset kisses the top branches and adds an orange glow, not unlike the lights you already described and envisioned. I am waiting for the days when its warm, sunny, and the tree casts a welcome shadow, standing tall and tired in the heat. But that moment doesn't exist, so I relish its soft greenery against the grey of late winter, and enjoy the minute or so more of daylight each day.
I went to take the trash out on an unseasonably warm night. The tree swayed and buckled in the wind. The air was silent and warm. Raindrops had ceased falling for the day, and the tree stood large and damp, its upper branches whispering loudly in the wind, that was simultaneously slamming the front windows and howling around the house. All I heard was the violent rustling, all I saw were the branches swaying, and I leaned up against the brick and watched and listened and watched. Eventually it started to rain again and chilled, I went back inside, imagining the glow of a thousand lights behind me.
When there is nothing left but the silence in between the podcasts, you want to look up at the sky and just question everything. It would be a relief to yell really, really loudly, but if you open your mouth a sound will come out that will likely terrify some little old lady sitting at home, watching the Price is Right. It's that time of day, after all. You're the only one moving, wanting to yell. Other people are stopping the sound by taking cigarette breaks, another lap around the office to the cooler, or stuffing chocolate pastries in to extend a break, or "just because." (If you don't do that they shoot you dirty looks and try to justify their own gluttony. The truth is, you had a little piece earlier, but you don't make them feel terrible for their obesity.) But right now there are no pastries, and you're too nice to be an alcoholic - vodka before breakfast is stomach-turning, unless it's for a celebratory occasion or a luxurious brunch - so you've gone for another walk and just want to yell.
But you can't yell because someone would call the police. There was a shooting, again, on the East side the other day - yes, that side your former coworkers made their racist remarks about, letting their bigoted bile fall from their lips, before going to church on Sunday. Love thy white-ass, straight, god-fearing neighbour was about right. It doesn't matter that you're just somewhere in the middle between the East and the West, the day and the night, walking around in the headphone white noise of music or voices, because it's a small town and people don't expect the unexpected. Except in pockets, of course. And in those pockets you find the hipsters and the cool kids and somehow the money to look cool, feel cool, act cool. You'll never be cool, but that's beside the point. You just want to yell.
Tomorrow you'll yell. Tomorrow you'll drive to the beach in a storm and hope the crazy people and the rapists have stayed home. (Not that there will be any, of course, but you're a woman and anyone can jump out of anywhere at any time.) But you'll hope you're alone anyway, so you can yell into the wind and the waves and nature and maybe reach Canada. Oh, Canada. And the sound will be expelled from your soul and the moment, just like this one, will pass and be forgotten because that yell is in limbo right now, not in the past, the future or the present. It is an idea that disappears as soon as your mind moves to other matters, but its ghost remains because you can still feel the urge, the amplitude and the strength deep in your soul.
You took some my hair that peeked out from my eskimo-esque hood. "That snowflake looks like a star," you said softly before gently releasing the tendril to the wind's whims. I smiled and started to walk home. The roads were bad but not so terrible that walking was unadvisable or unsafe. Echoing shrieks of joy and mild terror from sledding children pushed me carefully in the direction of home. It was the winter's first snowfall and I was the only one not entirely prepared.
Later, I was walking again, hashing out my self-deprecations in my head. Except, this time, they didn't seem to be as posised to fall as the icicles hanging on every house. When the snow falls at night, no stars can be seen save those million, billion, tiny scientific marevels of frozen droplets of water which punctuate one's field of vision. I ran around the back yard, warmed by a cozy evening inside, comforted by love and inspired by the season's excitement. I am "just like a kid" but sans wide-eyed innocence and idealism. The icicles winked, solid and solemn.
The snow melted and it froze and the paths were coated with a thick, unpenetrable ice. Unlike in major cities, it did not turn to lumps and bumps because no one is responsible for salting the streets. It's not worth it; it keeps snowing and freezing. I put spikes on my boots and walked again, my hood up and body covered to the familiar cold that hits this time of year, everywhere. I crunched out my disappointments, my defects, perceived or otherwise. I saw the snowflakes in clumps, forming snowmen, angels, piles to the size of the road, moved out of the way for more important traffic. I couldn't see my reflection in any of the puddles - the sky was too grey.
You left in a snowstorm, a magical, lake-effect snowstorm that silenced the streets and the neighbors and the birds. I watched the snowflakes caress your overcoat, landing before briefly melting. Your figure cut through the thickly-falling snow, into the warm car and away. I watched for a break in the weather, standing beside the window, drinking tea, wishing for a glass of wine. The house was quiet, echoing with laughter, I thought, but it was just the wind.
The icicles were gone.
With clouds as varied as the moon's surface, it would seem that there is texture and complexity in the sky's recent, preferred monochrome. Any nuances in the light or the cloud are invisible.
There's another residential street, somewhat hilly. The well-kept front yards are punctuated with all manner of resplendent and repugnant Christmas - sorry, holiday - decorations. There is no snow yet. Like a few lost birds, dark, dead leaves occasionally blow in their dusty way across the grey sky, landing amongst the inflatable Christmas Disney characters, the reindeer, the strands of lights which will illuminate homes when darkness falls somewhere between 4:45 and 5:30. It depends on the day, of course, but we haven't been treated to a sunset in a while, so most of the day feels like the middle of the night anyway.
The grey sky is the background to these houses, to a lone figure walking, hair and coat blown about. Those that live in these houses let their dogs roam, bark at this person. Occasionally, it crosses the street, quickly, to avoid these angry snarls and aggression. It moves parallel to more homes, mostly still with aluminum siding, suburban gardens and windows, heavily-lidded with curtains or standard issue blinds. No one else is on the streets. No one else is walking. No one else sees her.
The body in movement would like to stand out by not standing out. But how does one not stand out when one has fallen through the socially prescribed cracks? Again?
You wonder what life was like here before the factories emptied out and the drug-addled wanderers made comments about your appearance on the street. Before they came close enough to touch and sneered, "I'll bet they were beeping at her." Before you didn't tell your coworkers that you liked to walk around because they looked at you in horror and then looked quickly away. Many have come to accept certain quirks like liberal worldviews and Dr. Martens boots, but not fishnets or putting oneself in a potentially "uncomfortable" situation.
But after being chased by a homeless, mentally ill man on on you way to yoga at a studio in Washington Square Park in another world, you realize how each situation is a series of contradictions. That nice lady smiling at you with all her teeth in Wallgreens - she's cheating on her husband. The cashier who tells you to have "a blessed day," without stopping to check whether religion is even waiting in the wings of your life is also an abusive alcoholic.
Those empty buildings aren't entirely vacant either. As you bike to work and try not to be hit by a car, you see shift workers out on break, faces dusted with their labors and packets of cigarettes peeking from shirt pockets. They stand or congregate around benches just far enough from the factory doors as to enjoy the fresh air, but still so close that they are reminded that the freedom of the workday's end is still hours away. They are remarkably quiet, you might notice; if this was New York City and these men were construction workers, you would receive catcalls or comments despite being bundled up to the eyeballs against the crispy clean air. Here, however, perhaps their silence is better; you've already experienced the tunnel-like thinking of many and spied more than one Trump shirt at the clean, proper, suburban grocery store which commends itself on its diversity by having one international aisle and Hanukkah candles next to the seasonally displaced Christmas memorabilia.
The streets on your morning run might be emptier than before, save schoolchildren waiting to be bused. They sometimes smile shyly, and you make a point to beam and to wave any any small girls. It's not about you, it's about them, and setting a good example. You're the grownup now. You are the one that others admire and you know that because there is no longer the gnawing self-loathing cannibalizing your worldview. But when you're around the corner, you start to skip and sing out loud lyrics to the best album this year, whose creators you've already seen twice in sweaty, beery venues. With whiskey in hand, you sang yourself hoarse and your heart swelled to other creatives' passion and dedication and the excitement you shared with the love of your life next to you. Because even though this music helped you understand yourself, knowing it touched another's heart doubles its overall beauty and meaning.
So you run, and you gaze at the fluffy clouds and the watercolor sunrise and you feel a little sad because it will be darker this time next week. And you go to your designated spot and complete your designated tasks and you don't worry about how it affects your being any longer. You leave and you drive and you sing and you feel free and light of heart and pollute the environment and struggle and laugh and learn and don't feel the need to profess it on a bumper sticker or vapid social media posts. You are considered dull, but your life is that kaleidoscope of color that you watched during summer sunsets, beer in hand after long bike rides, chilly lake swims and sweaty afternoons walking past empty warehouses, dilapidated houses and local businesses with air conditioning, warm smiles and too-long conversations.
I started to write because I thought I had something to say. I added words, musing about the impermanence of leaves, the fleeting moments of the season and of death. The draft did not save and my words were gone.
It was raining again, all day, and the darkness of the season had become apparent. It didn't look like fall, much. The street was damp and full of thick puddles, and the leaves just looked sad. I don't know where the colors had gone, so I ran through the rain and the dark to run on a rotating belt inside. The earth turned, slowly, and the clouds became lighter. I ran back home, past school buses and warm cars. I jumped over puddles. I felt my socks dampen and then soak through. It was still mostly dark inside too.
I was in front of my computer. I looked for news on relevant topics, posted on social media to many people who scroll past millions of posts, their eyes glazed, commuting to somewhere more interesting, sitting in a meeting from which they needed distraction, pretending that their lives were more important than mine. I put whipped cream in my coffee because it tasted burned and it was Friday and everyone needs a small pleasure, right?
I paid the bills. I listened to the phone ring. I sat, heavy with my self. I counted my bank balance and watched emails come in and out, offering up new trips to exotic locations, or new clothes I could not afford. The plants needed watering, but I ignored them. Their leaves were fresh and green and artificial in the neon light. I kept my mouth shut and re-laced my boots. I couldn't tell if it was still raining outside.
I tried to walk, but there was no destination in mind. I had to ignore the drug-addled individuals, weaving and loping past. They scared me more than the impending Halloween season. I looked for my reflection in the sole glass window, and didn't know who stared back at me anymore.
How I choose to attend to my Jewish background is my business.
I've been told in the past I "have" to be one way or the other, to act in a manner befitting...someone else's idea of who I should be, or that my observance of holidays is inadequate. I've been defined by my background and expected to have certain behaviors - in some cases, I'm sure, horns growing out of my scalp.
And so over the years, I've personally decided the manner in which I want and need to observe holidays and to learn more about this part of my background.
in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is probably the most significant holiday. When I was little, it wasn't exactly a thrilling prospect to spend the day at the synagogue - I guarantee not many people would admit that - but along I went because that is what we were supposed to do. As always, there were many things I enjoyed about being there, even though this little lady silently protested too much. There was the warm smell, the polished wood, the mournfully rich songs in Hebrew that punctuated long Torah passages, prayers or a sermon, the feeling like I belonged there, and the feeling like there was something unspoken and shared between my mom, my grandparents and my self. We would arrive, and hushed, familiar faces and friends of my grandparents would smile at me, even though this was a more solemn occasion. We would greet one another just by the simple act of a touched arm, a whisper or kiss on the cheek. We all understood.
I would sit and stand when directed and my mom and grandma would point out the Hebrew words as the Rabbi recited them, even though I did not understand. When they tired of this, I would look around. The light would shine through the stained glass, and I would wonder about the day outside. I would count the memorial lights glowing, and look for the deceased with my name. This was the only place I would see my name up above me. I would wonder about the afternoon, and think about lunch, and then remember to pay attention to the Rabbi instead.
No matter how long we were there, I knew a break was coming. My mom and I greeted the day during the Yizkor or memorial service. It was bad luck to stay during those prayers if your parents were still living, so my mom and I would walk, slowly, down to the river and back. Sometimes we would come back in for a while. Sometimes my mom would collect my grandma and we would leave. In the car ride home, I always anticipated lots of challah bread with butter, cottage cheese and perhaps a cookie, if there were any left and I had behaved. We stayed in our synagogue clothes for the rest of the afternoon, and broke our fast with prayers and candle-lighting when the sun started to set.
Today, I don't know the prayers myself. I can't really read Hebrew, save a word or two here and there. I only recently made my first brisket, and now live in a place like where I grew up: back to being in the very minority and most people not having a clue about what being Jewish even means. Yet I chose to fast on Yom Kippur. I decided to make the brisket and the kugel and light the candles on Rosh Hashana, after confirming the right prayers online. I am biking, solo, to services and am honestly mortified by the inconvenience and the otherness I fear it exhibits. But I will go, for a while. I will eat another piece or two of the challah bread when it is time to, again, light the candles and break the fast. I will find the meaning for myself and I will remember even though my grandparents are gone and my mom is far away, how to reflect, to change, to be willing to accept my faults and to adapt into a better person in the coming year.