A story about something that’s very difficult to explain correctly, but is an important notion, and so it is worth trying to explain anyway. Oh, I hope I can do this thing justice:
The little girl arched her back, splaying chubby legs in a deliberate “V,” out and away from her mother’s reach.
“No –” I said. “You know I don’t watch movies. At least, nothing that was made after 1969.”
I was only half-kidding.
“Yeah….okay, well, you’ve heard of it, right? Ethan Hawke and that French actress, Julie….” her voice trailed off as she engaged in a concentrated effort to guide a handful of toddler ankle through the neck hole of the jumper and then out the skirted end.
“Delpy?” I offered.
“Yes, that’s it, Julie Delpy.”
I stood — leaning on the door frame of M’s daughter’s nursery — with my sunglasses still on, and my house keys in hand. I hadn’t yet committed to anything beyond a five-minute interlude amidst 1,440 minutes of daily grind. I had a million things to do at home.
“So, yes, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke….” M said, situating her daughter upright to survey the progress.
“Socks,” M noted aloud, as the little girl dutifully reclined into her mother’s lap, extending a foot and wiggling corn-niblet toes in my direction.
M reached for the sock drawer as she continued:
“….and, anyway, they meet on this train — they’re in Budapest — and they have this immediate connection, and so, on a whim, they get off together in Vienna and spend a day walking the streets and having these really amazing conversations.”
M is from Jersey; when she talks she uses her hands to help her words along. I watched as she punctuated “immediate” and “whim” and “amazing” with gestures that somehow seamlessly worked two tiny pink socks into the choreography.
I love watching her talk.
“Yes, yes, right. I remember the gist,” I said.
I hadn’t seen the movie, but I had seen the trailer several times: With a stolen-moments sense of urgency, two dialog-happy young strangers discover the very best parts of each other over the course of a day spent canoodling near incredible European architecture.
And of course, cue The Lemonheads:
I know a place where I can go when I’m alone.
Into your arms, whoa, into your arms I can go.
I played the song in my head as I followed M back downstairs and into the kitchen. She had now transitioned from Before Sunrise to its most recent sequel, Before Midnight. She was pouring milk into a sippy cup while weighing the merits of this latest installment, but I could only hear those lyrics still on repeat in my imagination:
And if I should fall
I know I won’t be alone
Be alone anymore.
That familiar pang signaling an impending bout of nostalgia grabbed at that space between my heart and my throat. Every breath drawn felt like I was on the verge of both a smile and a cry. A pleasant gag, maybe?
From behind the cover of my sunglasses, I looked past M and fixed a steady gaze on an empty glass turned upside down in her drying rack. Sunlight streaming through a nearby window caught the glass at just the right angle to cast a bauble-like effect within it, the colors like a bridge to sunbeams past.
Like those that hit at vinyl dashboards during early evening drives on winding roads to wherever-the-Hell — a fog of Marlboro Light hanging heavy in the air, a Guy You Like sitting next to you.
I know a place that’s safe and warm from the crowd.
Like those that pierced the tiny spaces between fans of leaves so that when lying in the grass below — looking up at this tree canopy — you had a trippy cathedral in which to contemplate how The Cure was more a band of poets than a band of musicians. Or some other kind of indulgent, beautiful nonsense you used to have time think about.
Into your arms, whoa, into your arms I can go.
“I mean, I’ve had those moments. I’ve lived those moments. I’ve walked through cities with a guy — I’ve had amazing conversations while strolling museums. Albeit in the tri-state area as opposed to somewhere in Europe, but….I mean, I’ve lived those moments, you know?”
M’s words drew me back into the here-and-now of Wednesday morning in a kitchen, in a house, in a neighborhood, in suburbia. I blinked free from once-upon-a-time and studied my friend.
My toddler-rearing, milk-pouring, laundry-folding, mom-wife-friend, who in that instant didn’t really seem like any of those things at all.
M looked so young. Too young to be using past tense when speaking of long walks through interesting cities with someone who cares to really know her.
No way am I the only one who appreciates the way she uses her hands to help her words along.
“I’ve done some really great things,” I heard her continue.
Now I knew this whole conversation wasn’t about a movie anymore. For either of us.
The movie was just a jumping-off point from which we’d both hoped to dive into something deeper.
As I’ve said before, moms talk about real things. Real important things.
I dropped my keys on M’s kitchen table and flipped my sunglasses up to rest on top of my head.
Screw the grind.
“Yeah, I know. I know,” I said wistfully. “Me too. I’ve lived those moments too….I’ve done some really great things too.”
“Lauren — I want to go somewhere,” confided M, who was standing right in front of me now — looking at me as though whatever I said next might help her get there.
“I want to go somewhere….” M repeated.
“I know. Me too,” I said again.
I was enjoying the camaraderie so much that I didn’t want to acknowledge how the word “go” didn’t fit for me somehow.
But “go” can mean so many things, I reasoned.
“I want to go to Paris,” M sighed.
And there it was. I wanted to say “me too” again. But now I really couldn’t. Because now the divide between her trajectory and my trajectory was too wide to stay the course.
So instead of “me too,” I said:
“I don’t want to go to Paris. I mean, I don’t need to go to Paris. I don’t really need to go somewhere at all.”
I took a moment to think critically about what it was that I was actually trying to say.
“I don’t need to go somewhere,” I repeated slowly. “I think I need to…. feel somewhere.”
M looked at me, considering my words. I don’t know exactly what she was thinking, but I know she wasn’t confused, which was enough for me.
My best friend, J, always likes to say, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
And it’s really true. Cliche, but true.
Because the “go” is nothing more than new geography if the “you” is all out of whack.
See, the passage of time has a way of making you believe that everything has to evolve, that nothing is forever, that people change. That the essence of “you” is malleable, you know. It has to be.
Dreamers in cars on winding roads to wherever-the-Hell….wonderers contemplating under tree cathedrals….they have to move on to more important things someday.
(Like pouring cups of milk?)
No way. Not so. I know better than that.
I know that I am essentially unchanged at my core. I know because sunlight hitting the dash of a 1994 Toyota Corolla brings me to the same “place” as sunlight hitting glass in a 2013 drying rack.
Weird, but true.
And that “place” is not somewhere you go, but somewhere you feel — it’s that longing for something beyond the ever-changing circumstances of our little material existence. It’s that sense that something good has yet to be fully realized.
I want to “be” there — in that state of longing — because anticipating good things makes me the kind of person who I could bring to Paris. Milk-pouring, laundry-folding, harried-mommy me can stay behind. I’m bringing the girl who pleasant-gags at sunbeams. I want to travel with a dreamer.
But first I have to find her again. And she can’t be flighty, showing up only when there’s good music (or too much beer). She has to stay put.
M and I were now standing in her driveway — I was heading home, and she was hooking her big, brown bear of a dog to an outside leash, preparing it for a wash-down.
The dog had rolled in something dead again; the lighted Yankee candle on M’s stove top was no match for the stench.
M turned on the hose.
“So, Paris, huh?” I called out over the rush of water.
M looked up, still scrubbing soap into suds.
“Yeah….” she said.
“You’ll go, you know. Just go,” I said as I paced backward out toward the street.
“Yeah….” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t know….”
When I got home, I downloaded The Lemonheads to my iphone. I added some Gin Blossoms and Toadies, too.
I went to my car and hid the booster seat far enough back that it couldn’t be seen in the rear view mirror. I crumpled up stray PTA fliers and zip lock bags full of pretzel crumbs, and threw them in an empty grocery bag on the floor.
Slidding into the driver’s seat, I plugged in my music, and turned up the volume.
Make up your mind.
Decide to walk with me.
Around the lake tonight.
Around the lake tonight.
By my side…..
And then I opened the sunroof and waited for sunbeams to hit at the dashboard of my 2010 Ford Expedition.
Hey, you gotta start somewhere.