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Friday, March 09, 2007

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I walk the line

Last night my dear neighbour Julia welcomed us home with fresh salad greens and dark chocolate. It was the perfect complement to the meal I'd managed to cobble together from refrigerator remnants: frozen chicken and green beans revived with butter and garlic, and a curried soup from a past-prime bag of baby cut carrots. The only thing missing was wine, and something devoid of color and texture for my six-year old, who claims he is a vegetarian, as long as it doesn't involve eating vegetables. I grabbed the car keys and drove down the hill to the wine store, where I selected a chardonnay from the cooler, because it was the kind of early spring evening when the light is soft and buttery and the forsythia are in yellow bud and the only way to properly toast the forgetfullness and naievity of creation is with a cool and dewy glass of chardonnay.

Then I did something unusual. Instead of walking back to my van and driving the two and half blocks to the Chinese take-away, I tucked my bottle of wine under my arm and strolled there instead.

I used to walk everywhere. I used to call myself the last white pedestrian in America. Outside of the major cities—which are really not part of the American mainland at all, but cultural principalities— this is a drive-through society. I live in one of the few neighbourhoods in Little Rock where it is possible to walk to the supermarket or the liquor store or the coffee shop, and I used to do so without thinking twice about it, the way I never bothered with a bra, because to do otherwise seemed unnatural and unnecessary.

Believe it or not, the walking created the greater commotion. Drivers would stop and roll down their windows, concerned that I was lost, stranded or looking for sex. I wound up getting a dog to serve as my "beard", a visible justification for going around on my legs. I was defiant about it for a while, but eventually, as with the bralessness, I became self-conscious about it. Defending myself began to take up too much psychic energy and it became easier to do as the Romans do.

I had almost forgotten the freedom of being a stranger in a strange land. The immunity of anonymity. At the beginning, my love of being in America was uncomplicated, a passing fling. "It's like watching a train wreck," I wrote gleefully in a letter to my father during my first year.

Now my own children are travellers on that train. And many more people that I love. Now my heart heaves and rocks and shakes with every rumble of the track. Now I am tied to it, stretched across it. I am not the stranger. I am not free. This is the central paradox of my life, for that matter, of any life that tries to encompass motherhood and art simultaneously. It is what I am usually trying to work out in my writing here. The writer belongs to no one, while the mother and wife are willingly indentured. There is never equilibrium, because life is never static. Just a lurching kind of motion between one truth and the other. This stagger that is my life.

Returning to my car along the sidewalk last night, brown bags of wine and steamed rice in my arms, I felt a fleeting sense of balance. Like the first time swimming or riding bicycle. The sun was setting in front of me. I had the afterglow of Ireland behind me. I felt free but steady. Graceful, even. A writer and a mother. A stranger and a neighbour.

I felt like whispering, "Look! I'm doing it!" But as any grade school child knows, that's a jinx for sure. I got to the van and buckled myself in for the drive back up the hill to supper, bathtime and homework folders and all the things that tie me down and open me wide.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jodi Reimer said...

I found your blog today via Finslippy. Thanks for the good read! I'll be back...

11:29 PM  
Blogger littlepurplecow said...

"The writer belongs to no one, while the mother and wife are willingly indentured." - Love this quote.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Cecily said...

ahhh... a blog worth reading. Thankyou!

4:57 AM  

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