I am remarkably, astonishingly, uncharacteristically asleep for 15 hours – peaceful then flailing, waking only for moments then sleeping again. I am memorizing dreams of revisiting Boston and New York, and there are other places I am touching down but I cannot precisely pinpoint them.
I have spent these extraordinary hours in decorating competitions alongside Top Chefs, in which they are hustling to prepare sumptuous meals to the ticking of the clock, and I am left to wiring paper petals and construction paper into a massive number of centerpieces.
I’m in a sweat, I’m hungry, I’m frustrated, I’m dismayed. There is no way to succeed at this task, but I give it my all only to fail miserably as Richard Blaise contorts his mouth and stares me down with a look of disapproval.
How do I explain that the crepe paper is unmanageable and my knuckles are sore from the plastic scissors? That the wire is the wrong gauge and I’ve managed to crumble all the blocks of Styrofoam? Why wasn’t I given proper supplies? And what am I doing in this ridiculous situation anyway?
But Bethenny Frankel is arriving on the scene, and inviting me to join a seminar she’s running on how to succeed in small business. She stands over me impatiently as I try to clean up, and scolds me for wasting time and not paying careful attention.
How can I pay attention when Arthur Fiedler is beckoning from the other side of a large, very stylish, Back Bay paneled room, and he is insisting I join him on the banks of the Charles?
It seems the Boston Pops is about to begin a special concert as part of an effort to convince yours truly to relocate to the place that was once my much-loved home town.
And now I find myself in a small Massachusetts village along its main street – possibly Marblehead, possibly Wellesley – and I’m staring into the display window of Filene’s. Two bloggers whom I’ve recently met, their faces foggy, nudge me in friendly fashion as one of them asks: “What is your name – really?”
They mean nothing by it except they want identification. They don’t know what to call me. They don’t know where to place me. But I feel pressed and I don’t like it. I force myself to take a deep breath. I answer politely: “Why does it matter? Isn’t it the words that count?”
Now the location is changing and I am certain it is New York. I want to stay, to stroll, to soak it all in, but I’m told I must travel outside the city with its noise and grit where I am frankly more comfortable. We ride in a car for awhile – I don’t know the others with me – and I find myself deposited in a leafy spot that I take to be somewhere on Long Island. It’s quiet here, the sun is setting, and the temperature plummets.
Nearby, a dear friend sits at the head of a long table as he’s being lectured by his adult children. They’re running the list of reasons that he ought to change jobs and relocate, so I busy myself to stay out of the way, wandering the edge of a copse as I look up and shoot pictures of branches against a purple sky. My right eye is twitching but I continue. The view is resplendent, and I know it is fleeting.
But my camera jams and my eye aches so I surrender, heading toward the table where the discussion continues. I wonder why they won’t leave him to do as he wishes and be who he is. He’s a teacher and he’s good at it. Moreover, he loves it. Shouldn’t that be enough? Couldn’t they leave him in peace?
There is a moment when he, too, approaches me and we walk in the evening air, arm in arm. I am at home in our silence as well as our conversation, but now we’re nearing a six-story brick warehouse that appears to have been transformed into lofts. Suddenly, we seem to be back in Boston.
“Up there,” he says, pointing. “Do you see those vaulted windows? We could live there together. Somewhere new, for the two of us.”
I take in his openness, his fearlessness, his willingness to find additional options, his optimism, his pragmatism. Our lives as they are? Chaotic. And the thought is tempting – the proximity of the city and all it has to offer, the universities where I may study for the pure pleasure of it for the rest of my life, the view of the Charles which I’ve always adored.
A chance to start again. Beginnings are seductive.
But I do not feel brave. This life is no longer familiar. So I say “I don’t know. There’s so much to consider.”
Just then, dollar bills blow through the air in a crisp breeze, mixed with fallen leaves that swirl then skitter across the ground. I am keenly aware of chasing money, painfully aware of the costs of chasing money, bristling at the need, still, to chase money. And part of that chase requires designations and approval that I want nothing to do with if they are contoured by any hand other than my own.
My belonging cannot be contingent on a refurbished past or a provisional future. My belonging cannot be contingent on performance of roles that do not fit me: I will not play the Sous Chef in Charge of Paper Pieces, Small Business Owner in Pursuit of Word Manufacturing, Consumer of Dead Music, Photographer Specializing in Treetops at Twilight.
But then, isn’t every future provisional? And the purple sky enchants me. I did not plan those images; I experienced them.
And here, awake and alert, suddenly, all I want right now is to find my younger son’s Legos – the favored objects of my tiny child who draws and builds, my tiny child who does not speak, my tiny child who smiles and hums, my tiny child who creates long past the years of being small and introverted. No longer a tiny child, he is now a young man who studies architecture. Somewhere he will have packed and stored the building blocks he treasured in his tiny hands that always responded to his own truest dreaming self. He felt no need to turn away.
If the Legos are not here where I can find them, even standing in his empty room I can imagine them – boxed and overflowing, scattered across his bedroom floor, tucked behind paperbacks and found objects, stacked in towers among sketchbooks and canvases, hidden between Conte crayons and Prismacolors, a few laying beside the small trophies of childhood and adolescence, behind the high school diploma and art class sculptures, near the dusty photograph of Grandma in her knotty pine kitchen.
I can see my son contentedly constructing and deconstructing with Legos, returning again to the fuselage he has been perfecting for years, his hands given to what he loves – fingers on a pencil, fingers on a piano keyboard, fingers fashioning a jet or a space ship or a futuristic building.
I search under his bed and conclude the giant container of plastic pieces has been moved to the attic.
I reach for a journal and a pen. Words without machinery.
I miss the city, and wonder where I will light again.
I long for a purple sky, and a sense of belonging. Something of the past and the future, meeting in the present.
There is a voice in my head, wakeful and insistent: It is not enough to chase your dreams, and it is not too late to rebuild them.