“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon
Yesterday was busy. Into the car, out of the car; small chores and smaller talk. When we’re done we’ll get you a treat. Strap her in. Why is your sister crying? We need gas.
Once or twice I glanced in the rearview mirror and watched as my seven year old absently stared out her window. Which moment would hang in there and become a memory of dull security and comfort thirty years down the line? Tires humming, Mom and Dad in the front; blurred trees. Would she try her entire life to regain that vague feeling of safety? The whole thing filled me with an urge to be better and then, immediate frustration. It’s just that I’m having a harder time changing as I age. I think about myself in a certain way, and my anxieties are set. Eventually I rolled the car back up our driveway and when we entered the house, we realized we never planned dinner.
Judy called in some Mexican food and fifteen minutes later, I backed down the driveway past the electric deer grazing on our lawn, and turned towards town. The CD player in my car is broken, and since my iPod broke after only 2 years I’ve decided it’s not worth replacing. So I’m back to old mixtapes. Their labels have long since lost their relevancy so every time I bring a new one into the car, it’s a surprise. The one I chose was full of music I hadn’t listened to in fifteen years.
I thought back to a couple of girlfriends from that era who had attended concerts with me. We shared good times, broke up, and then I stalked them both for years, but amazingly, neither worked out. I thought back to another girl, one who would hang out with me in my dorm room. We’d get high and listen to music and then write. She moved to Italy and disappeared completely. What happened to these people? I felt ambushed by the past as I drove over the small bridge that leads into my town. Five minutes before I was in my house with my wife and growing daughters and then suddenly, I was in my dorm room with candles melting and a girl swaying to music with her eyes closed.
When you’re young you can’t understand how the past could ever tempt you. I’m getting older.
Anyway, I made it to the Mexican place and parked in the empty church lot across the street. I love December because it gets dark at 4:30. We eat early, go to sleep early, and wake early. The taqueria was brightly lit against the darkness, like a Christmas pin on a goth chick. No one was around, it was perfectly silent. The only sound I noticed were the chrome crickets chirping in my ears, a result maybe, of all those concerts I attended. The moon was full, and its light improved everything it touched.
The girl behind the counter was pregnant. Maybe a few months…
“Do you need napkins? Want hot sauce?” she said.
Thinking of my daughters I made a mental note not to check out her ass as she turned around to use the credit card machine.
“I’ll take some hot sauce,” I said.
Through a door that led to the kitchen I noticed a large hispanic man with his arms folded across his chest, glaring at me. Maybe he was just looking at me, I don’t know. His hat was on backwards and he looked dirty. He had just cooked food for my family. I smiled at him and nodded in the way that white people smile and nod at menacing minorities. He reacted by turning around to scrape the grill.
“Green or red?”
“The red is hotter.”
“I’ll take the red.”
I wanted to ask the girl about her belly but I didn’t, just in case. What I didn’t want to do was say something about the miracle of parenthood. Not that I didn’t believe it, just that I would want it to be meaningful and it wouldn’t end up that way. She had no choice but to hear whatever I said, so I decided to say nothing and free her of the obligation of having to listen.
More than anything, I felt some silent desire to help her and thought maybe that saying nothing was the best I could do. I just wanted her and her baby to be okay but I don’t know why I think like that. Of course they’ll be okay, right? But she’s pregnant and there’s some mean looking dude cooking burritos a few feet away from her unborn fetus and maybe that’s what made me nervous for her.
I completed the transaction and entered the outside again.Just as I started to open my car door the church bells started to ring. I stood there to listen. I felt secure. Comforted. What could go wrong when church bells were ringing? The baby would be fine. My family would be fine, too. Across the street I could see the counter girl through the window, texting.
I looked away from the girl and up at the spire. Huge white floodlights lit it so that it looked like a white spike piercing the dark sky. You look up at a spire like that on a clear cold night in December, it’s so bright it’s almost loud. And from the spire I looked up and saw the stars.
They were singing to me and I was breathing in planets.
No, you can just never tell what’s going to become a memory and what’s lost forever. So pay attention.
This holiday season won’t you please follow me on Twitter.