Thursday, January 27, 2011

When Memory Smells like Vanilla Chai

It's been 6 weeks since I left Washington, DC and returned to snowy Massachusetts. It's been 6 weeks (almost 7 now) since I felt the cold steadiness of Eastern Market bricks under my feet. I haven't seen this vision (captured beautifully by my friend Hannah):

And the missing sometimes catches me at the smallest moments in my day. I'll be trekking through the muck of three day old snow on my way to granola and yogurt in the dining hall, thinking about all of the work I have to do by tomorrow (or sometimes by 3pm that afternoon), and I will remember. I will remember what it feels like to fill my lungs with city air. What it feels like to fall asleep with two girls and our messy closet tucked in tight on the top floor. How I couldn't make myself wake up before 7:25 for the 7:55 bus and ALWAYS ran out the door only to run down half of the stairs, realize I'd forgotten something important (like my phone or my wallet) and have to run back up and back down again and hope that the nice bus driver (the one who repeats, 'Union Station, Union Station' when the annoying female voice on the D6 bus says, 'Columbus Circle and First St') would be a couple of minutes late.

The memories pound fast and furious and my brain reels from their weight. I can't keep holding it all, but I don't want to put it down, leave anything in the lurch between Reagan Airport and Logan. A particularly wise woman suggested to me the other day that I can't, can't, can't carry everything from DC with me here. I don't have suitcases big enough for the tucked away treasures - that afternoon by myself walking home from the Utrecht art supply store, or the surprisingly good hummus and pita bread appetizer I got at Nando's Peri Peri restaurant in October. I can't wheelbarrow back the buckets of pictures or the innumerable sunny walks back by the gleaming Heritage Foundation, or I will become so exhausted that I'll collapse. Instead, this wise woman suggested that I take the time to sort through the suitcases I've brought back, choosing the treasures and truths to carry home with me. 

I've been listening to The Weepies a lot this week, as I try to put down into words and into roots the true treasures of my semester away, as I clear a path through the beauty and fill myself up with the joys and sorrows and presences that, for now, seem the most important to carry forward. And The Weepies have this song, called "Slow Pony Home," and it has these words in the beginning:

It's the second September I have known you
Four years or so ago, I rode a pony, called him "Truth"
We didn't know the way so it took us till today to get here

And all that time, I felt just fine
I held so many people in my suitcase heart
That I had to let the whole thing go
It was taken by the wind and snow
And I still didn't know that I was waiting
For a girl on a slow pony home...

I don't really know if the hope of Deb and Steve (the singers) is to speak comforting words to me as I sit at my desk in my room with so many people and places in my suitcase heart, but it is a slow pony home. It is a slow winding way back to regular, back to full, back to home. And as you've all been hearing about for a while now, I'm puzzling through this returning with aches of the other gravity, the other wind, the other air. I have a suitcase heart, and it's filled to the brim with so many things I'm not sure that I can keep holding onto it as tightly as I want to. Maybe Deb sings it right - I'm waiting for a girl on a slow pony home. That's me. Me on a slow pony home. 

And oh, what I would give to walk into this place: 

and curl up with One Thousand Gifts and read, read, read and talk, talk talk my way back into October. I would drink vanilla chai and walk through the all-too-short blinking intersection lights on my way to the Capitol.

And so, I smell the memory, color in and outside the lines of the blank pictures and paint bright yellows all over it. And so, I start looking outside me - because today? Today in Massachusetts is beautiful. Today in the snow that almost buries an entire tree outside my window there is so much beautiful, and I don't want to forget it, to think that beautiful things only happen in Washington, DC or in Rome, Italy or in Hammond, Indiana or in any place except the one that I currently call home. So I look outside and drink vanilla chai... 


(photos - the first four from Hannah, and the last from me). 


  1. Oh how I know where you are at. I spent two weeks in rural China 2 years ago and it took me a couple of months to really get back to "normal". And even still I think back on my short time there and desire to go back to be with my people there. I brought them back with me and left pieces of me there.

    I do love me a Massachusetts winter though. Even when I complain about it, I still love it. I hope that you can be present where you are today and enjoy Massachusetts for the time being.

  2. I have a lot of that kind of luggage as well. Enjoy the unpacking. take your time...


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