Halfway to Somewhere

It's almost impossible for me to believe that it was 17 years ago when I sat in the window of my old dorm room, wedged in next to my roommate on that uncomfortable ledge, kicking our feet in defiance of the sidewalk from our new second floor home.  The L.A. air rushed past us and ran along the cinder block walls of our room, rustling the photos of friends from back home we had plastered over our beds.  I remember we thought it was so funny that a line of elementary school children in navy blue and white uniforms paraded below us just as the Indigo Girls sang in the background:

"I sit two stories above the street,
It's awful quiet here since love fell asleep.
There's life down below me, though,
The kids are walking home from school."

I listen to that song today, and I can still smell that old dorm room.  I can still feel the air coming off Figueroa Street that should have been bitter from asphalt and rubber and exhaust but was somehow sweet and vaguely floral, a smell so distinctly spring-like that, when I remember it, I ache to smell it again.

I was 17 years and one month old to the day when I moved into that dorm, which means that I am as far away from that moment today as I was, in that moment, from my own birth.  That year was halfway though my life so far, that moment when I felt so adult and aware, that moment which has been frozen in my brain like a photo that was never actually taken of my youth.

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I didn't get a photo of the Jacaranda trees in bloom, either.  When I came back at the end of the summer, the Jacaranda trees that had seemed so docile during my freshman year were lit up with purple blossoms.  I walked across campus, watching the trees sprinkle those purple petals all over the sidewalks and thinking how it looked like a wedding.  Little did I know I was marching to get my heart broken, off to meet the boy who would dance around it for a week before he could get the words out, the boy who would seem suddenly distant, who would show me goodbye before he could make himself actually say it.

I can still remember the way he looked the afternoon I saw the Jacaranda trees in bloom, laying beside me in the grass, looking at the sky and not saying much, as clouded as the sky above.  I remember I took my camera out and started taking pictures because somehow, for once, I sensed that these were images that were swiftly fading.  Maybe I realized I wasn't entirely sure I would remember the way he looked if I didn't have a photo, back in the days when photographs were still things to be clutched in your lonely little hands.

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I may be the only one who feels this way, but I don't think you could pay me enough to be 17 again.  I won't lie, the nostalgia I feel for pieces of that year can be intense.  I'm quite sure nothing will ever smell like that wind off Figueroa Street rattling around my first dorm room.   But in between all those frozen images, and even built right into them if I'm honest enough to admit it, was a tangle of insecurity and angst and sometimes downright anguish that almost choked the life right out me that year.  If you'd watched me lumber through my 17th year, you'd probably be shocked I can sit here and wax poetic about that particular period of my history.

Next month I'll be 35, and I think now how this is halfway to 70.

Tonight, when I took my youngest son to bed and said, "Goodnight, I love you," he replied, "Good day."  He said good day because every morning when I leave him, I tell him, "I love you, have a good day."  And when I said I love you this evening, he repeated the sweet words he's heard me say to him countless times: I love you, have a good day.

He smiled at me, his little feet kicking the covers, overjoyed at my laughter, overjoyed at the shower of kisses I rained down on him.  "Mom mom mom," he giggled, his name for me a joyful benediction falling from his lips.

Sometimes it hits me, in moments like that, how you never know which moments will become the snapshots.  We're always halfway to somewhere, I guess.  Lord willing, I will live long enough look back on this year as a halfway point, and I hope when I do, I will see this as a time when I made the most of the two remarkable lives that have been entrusted to me.

I am certainly happier now than I was at 17, and not just happy in that bright, flighty, elusive way but deeply, quietly happy.  Fulfilled, I guess you could say.

My children's laughter has infected my life.  Their joy has remade me.  Our first baby came when I had lost hope in just about everything, though I wouldn't have admitted that to you at the time, and from the moment I held him in my arms, I felt something I didn't even know I had lost.  When I am 70 years old and I look back on this period of my life, I'm sure I will remember that I was tired, yes, and frustrated sometimes, but I believe I will look back on these years of young parenthood not just as crackling with nostalgia but as lit up with joy and hope and sticky, sweaty, dirty, affectionate love.

"Mom mom mom," Lincoln sang to me this evening, his feet kicking at the underside of his blanket.  And that kicking, it reminded me of my own feet kicking out of the window above Figueroa Street.  It reminded me that our boys' rooms are on the second story and that my husband and I used to sit in those window sills and look out at the neighborhood children coming home from school and dream of what would come from our new son's life.

The sky outside was starting to darken, my son's window now more mirrored than transparent, the hour long past when school children would walk by below.  But I couln't help singing a new lullaby to our second child, one of the songs that was the soundtrack of my youth:

"I sit two stories above the street,
It's awful quiet here since love fell asleep.
There's life down below me, though,
The kids are walking home from school."


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